Let’s start at the beginning. A veteran or claimant begins the adjudication process by filing a claim(s) for entitlement to a service-connected disability at one of the many local VA regional offices. A VA employee called a Rating Specialist develops the claim(s) by gathering evidence and then decides the claim and sends it to the veteran in a Rating Decision. If the veteran/claimant disagrees with any determination made in the rating decision, he/she appeals by filing a Notice of Disagreement or NOD at the local regional office.
After the filing of an NOD, the claim moves to the regional office’s appeals section, and will now be handled by a Decision Review Officer or DRO. The VA statistics say that the wait time from the filing of an NOD to receiving a DRO decision is 9 months. This statistic understates the wait time for many claims.
If we are talking about poorly-represented claims, which DROs routinely deny, then yes, 9 months is a good estimate of the wait time. But claims — which are properly developed and prosecuted and have a much better chance of success – may take much longer. By properly developed and prosecuted, I mean:
- Obtaining the claimant’s VAMC treatment medical records, private treatment medical records, and in-service medical records
- Obtaining the claimant’s military personnel file (often necessary to prove psychiatric disability claims)
- Obtaining private one-time medical examination opinions to prove service-connection or to obtain a higher level of disability
- Submitting written legal memoranda in cases involving complicated legal issues
- Requesting a formal hearing with the DRO or an informal teleconference with him to go over the important factual and legal issues
An effective veteran’s representative will make sure that all of these procedures are completed. In a word, the proper development and prosecution of a claim(s) takes time, more than a year and sometimes two or three years. And, of course, it goes without saying, the VA’s growing backlog of cases adds to the delay.