How to Manage a Lengthy Appeal for Veterans Benefits
If your claim for veterans benefits is denied, you can appeal the decision to the VA regional office and to the Board of Veterans Appeals (BVA), if needed. The appeals process can sometimes be lengthy, but you can have someone represent you and help you with your appeal if you want.
You start your appeal by submitting a Notice of Disagreement (NOD) to the VA regional office. If the regional office disagrees with your claim, they will send you a Statement of the Case (SOC). To appeal, you submit VA Form 9, Appeal to the Board of Veterans' Appeals. You can authorize someone to represent you at this point.
After you (or your representative) get finished passing SOCs, SSOCs, and responses back and forth, everything (your VA Form 9, all the evidence, SOCs, SSOCs, your responses, and a check for $10,000) is gathered together by the VA regional office and placed into your claims folder. All of this paperwork is the basis for your official appeal to the BVA.
When the VA regional office sends your appeal to Washington, it sends you a letter letting you know that you have 90 days from the date of the letter during which you can add more evidence to your file, request a hearing with the VBA, or select (or change) your representative. This is known as the 90-Day Rule.
Each time you submit new information or evidence, the VA regional office will take a fresh look at your case. If it still disagrees, it’ll write an SSOC, to which you have 60 days to respond. All of this delays the time your appeal is sent to the BVA. This is why it’s very important to submit all relevant information when you first make your claim.
When your appeal finally reaches the Washington center, it’s placed on the BVA’s docket and issued a number. The BVA reviews appeals in the order in which they were placed on the docket.
Your claims folder remains at the VA regional office until three to four months before your docket number is expected to come up, after which it is transferred to the board’s office in Washington. The VA regional office will notify you in writing when your paperwork is ready to be transferred. Then the BVA will notify you in writing when it receives your file.
Until your file is transferred to the board, your local VA regional office is the best place to get information about your appeal. If your file is at the board, you can call 202-565-5436 to check on its status.
It may take several years before your docket number finally comes up. Your case is then assigned to a board member who decides on your appeal. Think of him as a judge. These board members, who are attorneys experienced in veterans law and in reviewing benefit claims, are the only ones who can issue board decisions.
Trying to speed up your veterans benefits appeal
If you believe your case should be decided sooner than others that were filed before yours, you can request to have your case advanced on the docket. To submit a motion to advance on the docket, write directly to the board (not the VA regional office) and explain why your appeal should be moved ahead of other appeals.
Because most appeals involve some type of hardship, you need to show convincing proof of exceptional circumstances before your case can be advanced. Some examples of exceptional circumstances are terminal illness, danger of bankruptcy or foreclosure, or a VA error that caused a significant delay in the docketing of an appeal.
To file a motion to advance on the docket, send your request to Board of Veterans Appeals (014), Department of Veterans Affairs, 810 Vermont Ave., NW, Washington, DC 20420.
Don’t get your hopes up. Over the years, the BVA has granted fewer than 3 out of every 20 requests for advancement on the docket.
Requesting a board hearing for your veterans benefits appeal
You have the right to present your case in person to a BVA member, sometimes at the local VA regional office, called a Travel Board hearing, or at the BVA office in Washington. Most VA regional offices are also equipped to hold BVA hearings by videoconference.
The supporting evidence is the prime factor in an appeal, not the hearing, and requesting a hearing can add several months to the appeals process.
If you didn’t ask for a BVA hearing on VA Form 9, you can still request one by writing directly to the board. This is subject to the 90-Day Rule. Make your request to Board of Veterans Appeals (014), Department of Veterans Affairs, 810 Vermont Ave., NW, Washington, DC 20420.
When a hearing will be held depends on what type of hearing you request and where you request that it be held.
Because videoconference hearings don’t involve travel by board members, they are less complicated to arrange and can be scheduled more frequently than Travel Board hearings.
Bracing yourself for the ultimate decision
When your appeal’s docket number is reached, your file is examined by a board member who decides whether to approve your appeal, deny your appeal, or remand it. A remand is an appeal that is returned to the VA regional office, usually to perform additional work on the case.
After performing the additional work, the regional office may issue a new decision. If a claim is still denied, the case is returned to the board for a final decision. Your case keeps its original place on BVA’s docket, so it’s reviewed soon after it’s returned to the board.
If your claim is approved, the board notifies the VA regional office that has jurisdiction over your case, and it will start your benefits automatically. You won’t have to reapply to receive them.
If your appeal is denied, the board will send you a Notice of Appellate Rights letter that describes additional actions you can take.
Your decision will be mailed to the home address that the board has on file for you, so it’s extremely important that you keep the VA informed of your correct address. If you move or get a new home or work phone number, you should notify the regional office handling your appeal.