If you are a veteran, you are likely far too familiar with the frustrating nature of the VA’s disability claims process. With an appeals process that takes five years on average, veterans have been seriously and unfairly stunted in getting their well-deserved benefits. The new bill signed by President Trump on August 23rd, the Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act (“the Act”), promises to add some much-needed speed to this process, but what exactly can we expect? We’re honored to provide this step-by-step guide to the new bill and how it will impact you.
VA Hopes to Reduce Delays by Providing New Ways to Appeal Disability Claims
Currently, a veteran who is seeking disability benefits starts by filing an application with the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (“the VA”). The VA either denies the application or approves it and assigns a disability rating. Applicants who are denied or who are unhappy with their disability rating can file an appeal. Upon filing an appeal, the Regional Office (“RO”) will review the decision and either uphold or revise it. If the applicant is unhappy with the RO’s decision, he or she can appeal to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals (“the Board”), and if the appellant is unhappy with the Board’s decision, he or she can appeal to the Court of Appeals for Veterans’ Claims (“the Court”). While this may seem simple in theory, in practice it has left more than 470,000 veterans trapped in the appeals process. Therefore, the Act, which has been lauded by organizations such as The American Legion, Paralyzed Veterans of America, and Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) among others, has created three new ways to appeal RO decisions.
Three New Ways to Appeal RO Decision
Request a Higher-Level Review. First, the Act creates an absolute right for applicants to request that a higher-level adjudicator review their claims. The higher-level adjudicator will review the same evidence that was considered in the original review. The applicant can decide if he or she wants the appeal to be reviewed by someone within the RO where the claim was originally filed or by someone at another office. A request for an adjudicator at a different office cannot be denied without good cause.
File a Supplemental Claim. Second, the Act creates the right for applicants to file a supplemental claim, including the submission of new evidence, to the RO. If an applicant indicates that records to be used as evidence are available but does not have them in their possession, the Secretary has a duty to assist the applicant in obtaining those records.
Appeal Straight to the Board. Third, the Act creates a right for applicants to appeal straight to the Board in two ways. The applicant can: 1) request an expedited decision by waiving the right to a hearing, or; 2) directly request a Board hearing. In either scenario, new evidence will be allowed.
Should You Wait to File an Appeal?
With another 18 months to go before the new system is established, we at the law offices of Attorney Sean Kendall recommend that you do not wait to file an appeal. While the new system promises reduced delays, the backlog is still so monstrous that there is no time to waste in filing your appeal. Further, because the appeals process has several deadlines, waiting to file your appeal may mean losing your opportunity to appeal altogether. Finally, even though the Act comes with great promise in theory, we have yet to see exactly how much faster the appeals process will be in practice. It simply isn’t worth risking your right to appeal.
Getting Your Benefits as Quickly as Possible
Regardless of when you file your appeal, it is important to have an experienced attorney on your side. Even with the new improvements brought by the Act, the many forms and deadlines which accompany the appeals process are difficult to navigate, and your odds of winning the benefits you deserve are substantially improved when you have an experienced attorney advocating for you. After all, the VA uses attorneys throughout the appeals process, so why shouldn’t you?
Whether you are disappointed with the VA’s decision on your benefits and deciding whether to file an appeal, or you are already in the VA’s backlog of appeals, there are steps we can take to get you the benefits you deserve in a timely and efficient manner. Call the offices of Attorney Sean Kendall today at (877) 629-1712. And, in the meantime, to understand the current appeals process in more depth, pelase feel free to download a free copy of our book.