If your application for Veterans disability benefits is denied, you can ask for a decision review officer (DRO) hearing instead of appealing directly to the Board of Veterans Appeals (BVA). You have the option of requesting a DRO hearing at any time your case remains at the regional VA office.
When you request a DRO hearing, the decision review officer will look at your file “de novo.” This means they will review the file as if it was being seen for the first time without considering or deferring to the previous decision.
Benefits of a DRO Hearing
Although every case is different, it is generally recommended that you request a DRO hearing before heading to the BVA. There are four main benefits to using the DRO hearing process:
- Speed. Typically, you will receive a DRO hearing faster than a BVA hearing. Unlike an appeal, you don’t have to wait to receive a Statement of the Case to request the DRO hearing.
- Convenience. A DRO hearing is usually located at your regional VA office, but you may be able to have a videotaped conference at a location closer to you if needed.
- High success rate. If you have solid evidence to support your claim, DRO hearings are often successful. The DRO in charge of evaluating your application will be an experienced VA employee who is very familiar with Veterans disability law. This means the DRO can provide a more accurate interpretation of the law than the lower-level employee who reviewed your initial application.
- No risk. The DRO has the authority to overturn an initial denial of benefits, but can’t overrule any favorable decisions that were previously made on your case. This means you can only benefit from the process.
What to Expect
A DRO hearing is not like courtroom hearings you’ve seen on TV. The hearing is very informal and will likely be held in a VA conference room. The only people in attendance will be the decision review officer, you, your lawyer, and any witnesses you request.
The hearing will be recorded for VA purposes. However, you can bring your own tape recorder if you wish to do so.
After the opening statement, the DRO will go over all of the evidence in your file and any new evidence you’ve brought. If there is any evidence you could submit that may help your claim, the DRO has an obligation to inform you of this. They may ask you some questions to clarify specific aspects of your case before making a closing statement.
You will not hear an immediate result from your DRO hearing but should hear a verdict within a reasonable timeframe. If the DRO mentioned additional evidence that could potentially help your claim, you have the right to request that they hold off making a decision until you can locate and submit this new evidence.
If the DRO rules in your favor and approves your application, you will begin receiving VA disability benefits. If the DRO rules against your claim, you will have a chance to appeal to the BVA after you receive a Statement of the Case from the VA.
In some circumstances, you may be able to request a second DRO hearing. This is usually an option when you disagree with only part of the decision, such as believing your benefits should have an earlier effective date or that you should have a higher percentage for your disability rating. Your lawyer can help you decide it’s best to ask for a second DRO hearing or to head to the BVA for the appeals process.
How We Can Help
VA disability law can be complex, which is why you need an experienced Veterans benefits attorney to help you prepare your case. We’ve been helping Veterans access the VA disability benefits they need to provide for themselves and their families for over 20 years and are committed to protecting your rights throughout the application and appeals process. Fill out the contact form on this page or call our office today to schedule a free, no-obligation initial consultation.