Guide to Understanding Veteran’s Disability Rating
VA disability compensation is a monthly benefit paid to veterans who have been injured while on active duty. Both physical and mental health conditions can qualify a person for such benefits. In order for a claim to be approved, the veteran must show that they have an injury that was incurred or aggravated by their service and that their current injury is a result of, or was exacerbated by, their time in service.Keep reading to learn how the VA makes their decision to deny, approve or uphold a disability rating.
Understanding the Stages of a VA Decision
The VA claim process is a complicated one. What veterans and their families may not realize is that the claims examiner at the regional level does not have the final say over a benefit decision. There are higher levels of examiners who can review cases and adjust an initial decision. To appeal to a higher level, the veteran can file a Notice of Disagreement, or NOD, to appeal the decision. Upon receiving the NOD, the VA must take a new fresh look at the claim and any new evidence. They will then grant benefits or uphold the initial decision. If they uphold the initial decision, you can then appeal your case to the Board of Veterans Appeals, or BVA. The appeal process can take years but will ultimately result in a new decision by a Veterans Law Judge, the BVA. The BVA decisions can result in three different outcomes. The decision is either:
- Overturned, meaning it overrules the previous decision,
- Remanded, sent back to the RO for additional development
- Upheld, meaning the judge agrees with the previous decision
When the BVA overturns a decision, the veteran will be granted their request for benefits. This is a final decision on the matter, and benefits may no longer be denied. This is a rare outcome. Veterans should not count on the decision being overturned. Far more common is the decision being remanded by the BVA.
What does remanded mean? It’s the most common kind of decision issued by the BVA. It asks that the claim be sent back down to the RO for reconsideration. The remand will include instructions for the RO to consider the claim through a different perspective. A remand focuses not on the outcome of the claim, but on the method used by the RO to review the claim and arrive at their decision. Remands may not be appealed.
For example, if a veteran suffered a broken hip and needs a replacement, they might file for disability benefits. The veteran had a Compensation and Pension exam, or C&P, to determine if the disability stemmed from their military service. Unfortunately, the doctor did not clearly indicate whether the injury was a result of the aging process or from the veteran’s military service. The RO denied the claim because there was no evidence that the injury was connected to their time in the military.
Should the veteran choose to appeal this decision, the BVA may remand the claim back to the RO. Rather than weigh in on the disability rating or whether the hip injury was service-connected, the BVA will ask the RO to collect medical evidence of the current condition of the hip injury. The BVA may even request another C&P exam of the veteran’s injury to have the issue addressed by a doctor.
When the BVA upholds an RO’s decision, a veteran is not out of options. Veterans may still file an appeal with the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, or CAVC. A federal court, the CAVC is not part of the VA. BVA decisions may also be remanded, upheld or overturned by the CAVC. Veterans may continue to appeal until they reach Federal Circuit Court, where a judge will hand down a final decision.
While a lawyer is not required for CAVC cases, veterans can benefit from bringing on legal support. Although no new evidence can be entered at this point in the process, an attorney can help point out legal errors made by the Veterans Law Judge when making their decision. CAVC cases may take many months to be settled.
How Veterans Law Group Can Help
The appeals process can be overwhelming, especially for veterans struggling with painful injuries. The Veterans Law Group can help with navigating the oftentimes difficult filing process when working through the appeal decisions. We believe our wounded warriors deserve the benefits they earned and are eager to advocate on their behalf. We get involved in cases at any level of the appeals process. If you have a decision from the VA you’d like to discuss with us, contact our firm today to see how our experienced attorneys may be able to help you.