Q: Board of Veterans' Appeals hearing expectations; What happens at a BVA hearing?
Veterans Benefits claims are won at the BVA. An effective way to win a VA claims is through proper presentation of a claim to the BVA. The Board of Veterans' Appeals (BVA) is affiliated with the VA, but not the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA). If you are initially denied veterans benefits, you can appeal to the local VBA Regional Office and then directly to the BVA.
BVA hearings can take place in three different settings:
at a travel board hearing,
via videoconference, or
in Washington, D.C.
Travel board hearings take place at your Regional Office when the BVA judges are in town. Most BVA judges travel to each Regional Office for a few days each year. During that time, they take hearings on a first come, first serve basis. You should arrive early for travel conference hearings, so you that you get an early time slot.
Videoconference hearings are also very common. They usually take place at your local Regional Office as well, with the judge on a monitor in his or her office in Washington, D.C. The advantage of requesting this type of hearing is that scheduling of the hearing is quicker than waiting for a travel board hearing.
Lastly, you may hold the hearing at the BVA headquarters in Washington, D.C. Similar to the travel board meetings, the judge will have numerous claimants scheduled for one day and will take them according to who signs in first. Again, if you plan to hold a D.C. meeting, it is important to get to the building early to sign in. The judge will have time to review your claim beforehand, but your attorney can also request that the claim be reviewed before your hearing date.
Regardless of where the hearing is held, you should know that it is not a highly formal meeting. If you are working with a veterans benefits attorney they should provide additional advice about your specific case.
The hearing: Hearings typically take one hour, though my advice to veterans is to try and keep it shorter. The judge will begin by summarizing your claim, noting the reason for the appeal and reviewing the evidence you have provided. After, you will be sworn in. Your attorney will then begin with an opening statement. He or she will then ask you a series of questions in front of the judge. Any other witlessness will also be questioned during this time. You may also submit new evidence if necessary. Your veterans benefits attorney will then conclude the hearing with a few statements.
Submitting evidence: Be careful when submitting evidence before the hearing, because it could take several months for the material to be transferred from your Regional Office to the BVA. If the Regional Office received the evidence before they have transferred your case to the BVA, they are required to review it before sending it off--which will only further delay your case. If your hearing is at the Regional Office, by video, I suggest faxing the evidence to the Board of Veterans Appeals.
During the hearing, the judge may also state that additional information is needed for the claim. You can then ask the judge to hold off on making a decision (for up to 60 days) so that you can submit the additional information.
After the hearing: The judge will send you a decision, he or she could either deny your claim, grant you benefits, or remand the case back to the VA Regional Office to make corrections. If you claim is denied, you can than appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals of Veterans Claims.
As you can see, there are many layers to the appeals process. Consider hiring an experienced veterans benefits attorney to assist you with your appeal. Contact us if you have more questions about the appeals process. We have over 20 years of experience in this field, and are happy to answer your questions. Not sure if Sean Kendall's firm would be the right fit for you? Hear from veterans who have worked with us in the past.