When you file a claim for disability benefits, the VA has a duty to help you gather relevant evidence to support your claim. In some cases, the VA’s failure to meet this obligation can be relevant to your appeal.
Understanding the VA’s Duty to Assist
The VA’s duty to assist applies to any records they have the authority to access that could help you develop your claim. For example:
- VA medical records
- Service personnel records
- Service medical records
- Other relevant government records
- Private medical records that support your claim
Please note that the duty to assist does not require the VA to complete your claim on your behalf. The VA only has to help you obtain records that you’ve identified or that the VA knows to exist. You are still ultimately responsible for making sure the VA receives the correct evidence. If the VA is unable to obtain specific records after making a reasonable attempt, it has a duty to notify you that they were not successful and that you must find another way to provide the VA with the records if you want them to be considered as part of your claim.
The VA does not pay any fees associated with the cost of obtaining private medical records as part of its duty to assist.
How the Duty to Assist Affects Your Appeal
The VA’s duty to assist applies to your initial claim or if you file a supplemental claim. The duty to assist does not apply to a higher-level review or BVA appeal. However, if the VA didn’t meet its duty to assist during your initial claim or supplemental claim, the reviewer or judge can order the VA to correct this error as part of the appeals process.
How an Attorney Can Help
As you can see, the VA’s duty to assist applies in limited circumstances. You can’t rely on the VA as a substitute for qualified legal representation. The VA disability appeals process is notoriously slow-moving, but hiring an attorney is the best way to reduce unnecessary delays and increase your chances of a successful outcome. Call our office today to schedule a free, no-obligation initial consultation to discuss how an experienced Veterans benefits attorney can assist with your VA disability appeal.