It’s easy to become frustrated by the red tape and seemingly endless amount of paperwork associated with filing a disability claim. When such a claim is denied, it can be downright infuriating. After all, a denial can feel as though the VA is completely dismissive of your pain, your service and the toll your disability has taken on your daily life.
The good news? Claims denied by the VA can be appealed, and legal assistance for veterans is available. With the help of the Veterans Law Group, you can fight for the compensation you and your family deserve. Start by taking a look at the services we offer, or keep reading to learn what steps to take following a denial from the VA.
Don’t Lose Sight of Your Goals
After a denial, it’s easy to buy into the idea that the VA does not want to help. Instead of dwelling on the denial, remind yourself of why you applied in the first place. Don’t allow bureaucracy to keep you from the disability payments you may be owed. The VA exists to serve veterans — not keep them from the benefits they deserve. Take the denial in stride and move on to the appeal process.
Know the Timeline
When starting the appeal, know that it can take upwards of 18 months to receive any disability payments. The VA is massively understaffed and overworked. VA audits reveal that some of the longest appeals have taken years to process. With that in mind, start your appeal by filing a Notice of Disagreement, otherwise known as NOD. The NOD form alerts the VA that you disagree with their decision and wish to proceed with an appeal.
Veterans hoping to appeal the decision can request to have a DRO, or Decision Review Officer, review their file. A “de novo” review will take place. All the paperwork in their file will be read through, from the earliest evidence of their injury to arguments for or against approval. The timeline for a DRO review is approximately 1-2 years. The senior claims examiners who serve as DROs have the authority to reverse decisions made about the claim.
For those who opt for a more traditional review of their file, the review process bypasses the DRO and goes straight to the review board in Washington. Getting in front of the Board of Veterans Affairs, or BVA, can take years. The timeline for a BVA review is approximately 3-4 years. Though this process takes longer, judges have the legal background that DROs do not. They also have more discretion than a DRO.
There are pros and cons to both forms of reviews. Both can result in further denials of your claim and both can lead to an appeal with the BVA. Some opt to cut to the chase with a traditional review, wishing to bring their claim before the BVA sooner rather than later. Others prefer to use the DRO review as an extra opportunity to have their files reviewed and a chance for the decision to be overturned.
Keep a Record
While dealing with an appeal, be sure to keep your records meticulous. Make copies of every form you fill out and have backup digital versions just in case. It’s a good idea to use certified mail when you send off paperwork to the VA regarding your claim. You’ll ensure that someone will sign for the delivery, guaranteeing that the forms get into the right people’s hands. Should there be any doubt that you turned in your paperwork ahead of deadlines, the receipt from the certified mail will also come in handy.
After a review of your claim, VA staff will determine if their original decision should be reversed. If they uphold their denial, you’ll receive a Statement of Case, or SOC, explaining why they have rejected your NOD claim for an appeal. The SOC will also include a VA Form 9 which allows you to appeal to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals.
If you still disagree with the reasons for your denial, fill out the VA Form 9 and submit it along with additional evidence of why you feel you should be approved. While evidence can mean the difference between a denied claim and an approved one, the additional time necessary to review the newly introduced proof can add to the time it takes to ultimately receive any benefits. That’s why it’s a good idea to submit as much evidence as possible from the very beginning of the process. Of course, should your condition worsen, it makes sense to include details of the progression in appeals paperwork.
Should the appeals staff still deny your claim, you can bring your argument up the chain of command to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals, or BVA. About a quarter of such claims are required to go before a Veterans’ Law judge for a formal hearing. In such cases, you may want to enlist the help of a lawyer for veterans. At the formal hearing, the judge will review the evidence and make a decision to uphold or reverse the denied claim.
This is generally the end of the line for most veterans seeking to appeal a decision made by the VA. In extreme cases, a veteran may choose to take their appeal to a federal circuit court. While not a road frequently traveled, it may be the only path to justice for those who feel their claim is not being taken seriously.
If your VA claim is denied, come to the Veterans Law Group for help with the appeals process. Most claims fail because of a lack of medical evidence. VLG can provide an independent medical examination and instruct the doctor on how they can provide the most supportive forms of evidence.
Feeling overwhelmed by the appeals process and unsure of what step to take first? There is legal help for veterans available from the Veterans Law Group. Reach out today for guidance from our team of compassionate, knowledgeable attorneys. No matter what type of claim you may need help with, you’ll find an invaluable ally in the Veterans Law Group.