Although the Department of Veterans’ Affairs has been eagerly patting itself on the back in recent weeks because of a decrease in the claims backlog, that decrease is only related to original disability claims. The backlog of pending appeals of unfavorable rating decisions is disturbingly large, and in some cases veterans who served our country and deserve compensation for their service-connected disabilities are waiting 4 or 5 years before the Regional Office even looks at their appeals, let alone makes a new decision.
At the office of Attorney Sean Kendall, we work closely with veterans to see whether they qualify to have their VA cases expedited. Once you file a Notice of Disagreement, you might expect your case to be worked expeditiously, but it is usually about a year before VA will look at your file and start the process of scheduling a hearing before a Decision Review Officer. If you have already filed an NOD and received an unfavorable new decision, in the form of a Statement of the Case, it could be three years after your new appeal (a Form 9 appeal) is looked at and processed for a hearing before a member of the Board of Veterans’ Appeals. However, if you qualify for expedited processing your case should be worked immediately.
THERE ARE THREE CIRCUMSTANCES THAT CAN QUALIFY YOU FOR EXPEDITED SERVICE OF YOUR VA CASE
#1 If you are 75 or old, you qualify under VA law for expedited service and need only to send a copy of your driver’s license, birth certificate or other identification to VA along with a motion to advance your case on the Regional Office’s docket. You should not be waiting in line with everyone else if you are a claimant 75 years or older, and if a VA official tells you they cannot expedite your case, that person is wrong.
Recently, a high-ranking VA official at the New York City VA Regional Office responded to my request for expedited service for a veteran who is over 80 years old by emailing me, “A lot of veterans across the country are in their 80’s and have appeals.” This is in adequate treatment of an elderly veteran and unacceptable.” Officials at the St. Petersburg VA Regional Office have also recently told myself and Attorney Timothy Franklin that they consider veterans over 85 to be worthy of expedited service, not 75. That is unacceptable as well, unless those officials can succeed in proving VA regulations have changed.
#2 If you are suffering from a life-threatening illness, such as cancer, you need only submit a letter from a doctor and a request for expedited service, and your VA case will be moved to the front of the queue. If VA does not immediately work your case in this situation it is unacceptable, and an experienced veterans’ law attorney or accredited representative will make sure to follow up repeatedly with VA until your case is adjudicated properly.
#3 If you are experiencing severe financial hardship and are waiting on a decision from VA, it must work your case immediately. In this situation it is necessary to thoroughly complete VA’s Financial Status Report form 5655 and submit corresponding evidence, such as print-outs of bills and bank statements. By completing this form, you will be able to show VA that your monthly expenses far exceed your income, if you are working at all.
If your case is lingering at the Board of Veterans’ Appeals, these same regulations apply, and if you have an experienced representative he or she will make sure to file for expedited service of your appeal. Keep in mind, additionally, that cases remanded to the VA Regional Office from the Board of Veterans’ Appeals are automatically granted expedited service. If you have a remanded case and a VA official denies you expedited service because you are, for instance, 74 years old or not experiencing severe physical or financial hardship, it is your representative’s duty to make sure that VA official does not get away with ignoring the VA regulations that ensure expedited service of remanded claims.
If you need help with your VA case, do not hesitate to call the office of Attorney Sean Kendall today at 877-629-1712.