When the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (“VA”) denies a veteran’s claim for benefits, it is nothing short of frustrating. The VA often denies claims for seemingly silly reasons – for example, VA officials might not be persuaded that a veteran’s disability is service connected, no matter how much the veteran explains that it is. While the veteran does have the opportunity to appeal decisions made by their Regional Office (“RO”) or by the Board of Veterans’ Appeals (“the Board”), many veterans are unable to dig up the evidence they need until the appeals deadlines have already expired. For those veterans, the best option is to find the evidence the VA is looking for and then reopen their claim at a later date.
When Can a Veteran Reopen a Claim?
Veterans can reopen claims for service-connected disability benefits, dependency indemnity compensation, or burial benefits as long as the veteran has secured “new and relevant evidence” and: 1) the original claim was denied, is over one year old, and has not been appealed; or 2) the original claim was appealed to the Board and the Court of Appeals for Veterans’ Claims (“the Court”) and was denied. The "new and relevant evidence" standard is a regulatory change from the "new and material" evidence standard VA used to apply.
What is New and Relevant Evidence?
The VA will not reopen a claim unless the veteran is able to present evidence that is: 1) new; and 2) relevant. The “new” requirement simply means the VA cannot already have the evidence in its records. Redundant or cumulative evidence (evidence that reiterates a fact the VA is already aware of) is not considered new.
The "relevant" requirement is slightly more difficult to understand. For an item to be relevant it must be "information that tends to prove or disprove a matter at issue in a claim." Relevant evidence includes evidence that raises a theory of entitlement that was not previously addressed. For example, if the VA previously denied service connection for sleep apnea on the basis that no service treatment records exist showing sleep apnea symptoms began in service, a medical expert report stating a veteran's sleep apnea is secondary to posttraumatic stress disorder (and should be service connected on a secondary basis) would be new and relevant evidence to reopen the claim.
What is the Deadline for Reopening a Claim Using New and Relevant Evidence?
Once a veteran discovers new and relevant evidence, she or he can file to reopen the claim at any time, regardless of how long it has been since the original claim was filed.
How to Reopen a Claim Using New and Relevant Evidence
A veteran seeking to reopen her or his claim using new and relevant evidence should submit the evidence along with VA Form 20-0995. You can mail the evidence and VA form to the Department of Veterans Affairs Claims Intake Center at P.O. Box 4444, Janesville, WI 53547-4444, or submit the materials in person to your closest Regional Office.
What to Do if the VA Says Your Evidence is Not New and/or Relevant
Oftentimes, the VA will argue that the veteran’s evidence is not new and relevant, or they will apply the old standard of "new and material" evidence to a claim. If they do, the veteran should consider an appeal. Our office has extensive experience appealing this type of denial and is available to assist veterans nationwide.
What to Do if the VA Considers Your New and Relevant Evidence and Still Denies Your Claim
If the VA agrees that the veteran’s evidence is new and relevant, yet denies the veteran’s claim, the veteran can file another type of appeal. A veteran’s chances of successfully appealing a denial rise significantly when they have the help of an experienced veterans lawyer. At our office, we have decades of experience with appeals, and are confident we can win you the benefits you deserve. When you are ready to appeal, give us a call at (877) 277-2119