Should Veterans file appeals if they believe their disabilities are from their time in the service?
The process of obtaining Veterans Affairs (VA) Service Connected Benefits is often quite a lengthy one. In fact, many VA appeals go on for five years or longer. Despite the long wait, we encourage veterans to file appeals if they believe they have current medical problems related to their time in service. Even though the wait is long, the success rate for obtaining benefits is relatively high and the benefits awarded can be substantial. The following are the steps to take when you have a claim for service-connected benefits.
(1) The Application
You can file an application on your own or with the help of a representative. In Ohio, there are many Veteran Service Organizations that help you file applications for service-connected benefits free of charge. Attorneys do not typically get involved in the application stage. When applying, it is important to remember to file the right type of claim. Veteran Service Organizations can help to ensure that you are doing this. You should file for the medical conditions you currently have which you believe are related to your military service. In addition, if you believe that your service-connected benefits prevent you from being able to obtain or maintain employment, then you should file for TDIU benefits.
(2) The Rating Decision/Notice of Disagreement
You’ll first receive the Rating Decision on a claim for service-connected benefits. This decision determines whether your medical conditions are or are not service-connected. If it is found that your condition is service-connected, then you will be awarded a rating between 0% disabling and 100% disabling. The higher the rating, the more your monthly benefit will be. You may hire a lawyer if you are unhappy with your Rating Decision (either because it finds your condition non-service connected or if the rating is too low).
If you disagree with your Rating Decision, the first step of the appeals process is to file a Notice of Disagreement. In recent years, the VA has changed its regulations and now requires you to complete a Notice of Disagreement on a specific form – VA Form 21-0958. VA accredited attorneys can help veterans file this notice.
When our firm files a Notice of Disagreement, we will typically ask for a hearing in front of a Decision Review Officer (the individual at the VA making the next decision). While it takes a while to obtain this hearing, in our opinion, it is usually beneficial for us to meet with this individual before the next decision is rendered so that all the legal issues and facts can be clarified.
(3) Statement of Case/BVA Form 9
After the Notice of Disagreement, the next decision is called a Statement of Case. This can overturn a decision that a condition is not service-connected, can work to assign a different rating, or it can affirm the previous Rating Decision. If you are not satisfied with the Statement of Case, the next step is to file a VA Form 9 and appeal the case to the Board of Veterans Appeals (BVA) in Washington, DC.
The process of obtaining a hearing and receiving a decision from the BVA is usually the longest part of the VA appeals process. At this stage of the process, it is highly advisable for you to have the assistance of an attorney or a Veterans Service Organization. A BVA decision can either uphold the Statement of Case, remand the case to the lower levels of the VA for further development, or it can issue an outright grant of the benefits sought. If your denial is upheld by the BVA, the next step is to file an appeal with the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims.
(4) U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims
At this stage of the process, you are effectively suing the VA in the Federal Court system. At this level, the issue is more than merely having a disagreement about whether a claim should have been granted. It is usually based on whether the VA broke a regulation or abused its discretion in denying a claim. The Court will usually either remand the case for further development or uphold the BVA’s decision.
(5) U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit
If you receive an unfavorable result from the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, you may file an appeal in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. This Court is part of the United States Circuit Court system, and, in Ohio, it is equivalent to having a case at the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. Decisions made at this level can have a major impact on case law/precedent for other veterans. Accordingly, the decision to take a case to this level should not be taken lightly.
(6) U.S. Supreme Court
The United States Supreme Court is the final arbiter of law in a veteran’s claim. However, it has the authority to decline cases that it does not deem necessary to hear. Statistically, the U.S. Supreme Court only takes on a small fraction of cases that seek its review.