What Veterans Need to Know About the
VA Appeals Process

//What Veterans Need to Know About the
VA Appeals Process

What Veterans Need to Know About the
VA Appeals Process

It’s no question that the bureaucratic processes of the U.S. government can be serpentine. Some are so enigmatic that it leaves us to wonder if the level of complexity is meant to discourage people from going through them in the first place.

This is especially true for U.S. military veterans. In the line of military service, it’s unfortunately common for veterans to sustain physical, psychological, and emotional traumas that leave them disabled or with limited abilities when returning to civilian society. This, in turn, limits their abilities to successfully procure and maintain full-time employment, predictably leading to financial hardship, poverty, and homelessness, which are issues already rampantly problematic in the veteran community.

When veterans seek compensation to help assuage the costs associated with living with their disabilities, regardless of their extremity, the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) is liable to reject those claims. Should veterans feel their claims have been rejected without appropriate consideration, they’re allowed to appeal. This is where the process grows discouragingly drawn out, leading veterans in dire need of support to fend largely for themselves on a lengthy bureaucratic wild goose chase.

As part of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), the Board of Veterans’ Appeals looks into every claim that’s appealed, which is a lot. The VA appeals process has remained the same since the 1980s and it has taken, on average, six years for appeals to be resolved. Needless to say, there needed to be some systemic reform, so in Fall 2017, Congress passed H.R. 2288, the Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act.

Should veterans feel their claims have been rejected without appropriate consideration, they’re allowed to appeal.

On average, it takes six years for appeals to be resolved.

One hardly needs to delve into a process that takes an average of six years to realize its inefficiency. When that inefficiency affects the lives, health, and livelihoods of human beings in need, change needs be made. The government is a slow ship to turn, so Congress granted the Veterans Benefits Administration an 18-month window to make the necessary preparations to implement the H.R. 2288. Their deadline is just around the corner in February 2019.

Scaling for Full Integration

When the process is in full swing early next year, it will look vastly different. The core of the process will remain. Rating decisions will remain and the ability to appeal those decisions will remain unchanged. Formerly, there was only one way to appeal a rating decision, a Notice of Disagreement (NOD), followed by a maze of subsequent steps which the modernization act aims to slash.

H.R. 2288 requires the VA to issue rating decisions supplemented with a breakdown of what issues were decided, a summary of the evidence used in the decision-making process, a summary of laws applied to the decision, claim denial explanation, favorable findings for the claimant, and criteria needed to be met to receive higher levels of compensation. The new process offers three routes through which veterans can steer their appeal:

  • Supplemental Claim:
    • This route allows you to submit new evidence to support your appeal within one year from the date of the initial decision. When the VA receives your new evidence, they aim to make a decision within 125 days. Once the decision is made, if you’re still dissatisfied, you have the option to choose any of these three routes all over again within a year of the decision.
  • Higher Level Review:
    • Again, within one year of your original claim, you can choose to have the decision reviewed at a higher level. This calls for VA accountability in the appeals process. New evidence can’t be added and hearings cannot be requested. At the higher level review, your original claim is reviewed de novo, meaning that it is reviewed without consideration of the previous decision. If you remain dissatisfied with the decision, the other two routes are still viable options.
  • Board Review:
    • Because the previous two routes remain at the VA regional offices, the board review route is where you file a Notice of Disagreement (NOD). The appeal then moves from the regional office to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals where there are three more routes:
      • A full appeal that needs no further evidence.
      • A hearing request, with the opportunity to add new supporting evidence.
      • A request to add new evidence without holding a hearing.
    • If you’re dissatisfied here, you can file a supplemental claim or you can take your case even higher to the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims.

Scratching the surface of this process that will be rolled out early 2019, it’s important to realize that thousands of veterans are still waiting on appeals that are mired in the old process. While the full system is still being established, the Veterans Benefits Administration is allowing veterans with claims being processed to join what they’re calling The Rapid Appeals Modernization Plan (RAMP), which boasts an average decision-making window of around 100 days. Some 50,000 veterans are currently taking advantage of RAMP, but thousands more are skeptical.

“When you’ve been in a process for several years and using it, you’ve invested a lot of time into it, it’s a very difficult choice to opt into something brand new,” said David McLenachen, the director of VBA’s appeals management office.

With an understandable level of apprehension, the system is swiftly gearing up to fully implement H.R. 2288 with high hopes that veterans in need will receive swift, well-reasoned answers where they formerly waited in Limbo.

Guest Blogger Bio:
Hill & Ponton is a veterans’ disability law firm based in central Florida. The firm was founded in 1986 and is focused on delivering the best client experience for every one of their more than 30,000 clients.  Learn more about them at www.hillandponton.com

2018-12-19T08:45:09+00:00 November 6th, 2018|Military Veteran Employment|0 Comments