How to Reopen a VA Disability Claim

Many Veterans contact our firm to see if we can help them appeal their VA claim. One of the first questions we ask is, “When did you receive your most recent rating decision?” For some Veterans trying to receive their due compensation from the VA, this may not seem like an important detail. However, the VA has strict timelines and timetables for Veterans to appeal their VA rating decision. If our team is not contacted soon enough, we may not be able to help until your VA disability claim is reopened.

Reacting to a Rating Decision in a Timely Manner

When a Veteran has received a rating decision and acts immediately by contacting a VA disability lawyer or begins the appeal process themselves, they are acting in their best interest. If you have received a recent denial form the VA or a rating decision that was too low, please contact our team of VA appeals attorneys immediately. If you delay appealing your VA rating decision, you may run out of time. Upon receiving a rating decision, a Veteran has 1 year to file an appeal. If the appeals process has not started within a year, the Veteran will lose their eligibility to appeal their claim and will not preserve the original filing date. This means that Veterans can lose out on due compensation because they did not act in a timely manner. If you do not appeal your claim within a year, you still have options. Veterans can reopen a VA disability claim.

When you Can Reopen a Claim

Veterans are allowed to reopen any claim where the VA’s decision was made final. Basically, there are two different times a Veteran can reopen their claim:

  1. You missed your appeal deadline. Once you miss your appeal deadline, your claim becomes final and must be reopened if you wish to increase your rating or continue pursuing VA benefits for that specific condition.
  2. You went through the entire appeals process. If you went through the entire appeals process (through your VA Regional Office, the Board of Veterans Appeals [BVA], and the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims [CAVC]), your claim is considered final and must be reopened.

Criteria to Reopen a VA Disability Claim

To reopen a VA disability claim, the claim must be eligible. Claims that are eligible to be reopened have a final decision, meaning the timeline to appeal the decision has passed or the claim has gone through the entire VA appeals process. On top of that, the claim must be one of the following:

  • Dependency indemnity compensation (DIC)
  • Service-connected VA disability compensation
  • Burial Benefits

One of the biggest downsides of missing your appeal deadline and reopening your claim is being assigned a new effective date. Since a Veteran establishes a new effective date when a claim is reopened, claims can be reopened at any time. With this in mind, claims should be reopened as soon as possible to secure the earliest possible effective date. By doing this, Veterans can put themselves in a position to receive the highest compensation available.

VA Form 21-526b

To reopen a VA disability claim, a Veteran must submit a VA Form 21-526b. This form can be used to:

  • Request an increased evaluation
  • Get service-connected for new disability(ies)
  • Add secondary disability(ies) to existing service-connected disability(ies)
  • Reopen a previously denied disability(ies)

Upon submitting this form with new and material evidence, your VA claim will once again be reviewed. After the VA reviews all the new evidence in support of the prior claim, a new decision will be issued.

New and Material Evidence

In order for the VA to reopen a VA disability claim, you must supply them with new and material evidence. Although this wording may seem confusing, it is very straightforward.

New evidence means that you must submit evidence to the VA that was not given to them during the prior filing process. This must be the first time the evidence was submitted to the VA.

For evidence to be considered material, it must relate to why your claim was previously denied. To see why your claim was previously denied, view your notification letter or rating decision. By viewing these documents, you can ensure the evidence you are submitting is relevant to your case.

Any redundant information will not be considered by the VA. Making sure the evidence you submit meets both of these criteria will guarantee that the VA reopens your claim. If the VA concludes that the evidence submitted is new and material, your claim will be reopened.

How to Reopen a Claim

In order for the VA to reopen a VA disability claim, a Veteran must submit VA form 21-526 to the VA along with new and material evidence. The VA will not reopen your claim if you fail to submit new and material evidence.

It may also prove beneficial to provide a summary of why the evidence you are submitting is new and material. Once the VA confirms the evidence is indeed new and material, they will begin the process of reopening your claim and assigning you a new disability rating.

Retroactive Benefits and Effective Dates in Reopened Claims

When a Veteran reopens their claim, they are establishing a new effective date for their claim. As mentioned above, Veterans can only reopen a claim if the decision is final (i.e. it went through the entire appeals process or the appeal deadline passed). Because the decision is final, all reopened claims will be given a new effective date.

The effective date for a reopened claim will be the date you filed a request to have the claim reopened. So, all backpay will go back to the date you applied to have your claim reopened. This means that missing the appeal deadline could cost you thousands in backpay awards. That is why it is so important to always appeal your claims on time. Doing so preserves your effective date and ensures you receive the full disability compensation available.

Appealing a Reopened Claim

Once the VA issues a new rating decision, you may not be satisfied with their decision. What happens if your reopened VA claim is denied? Are your chances of receiving benefits gone? No, they are not. You still have the opportunity to appeal any decision made on a reopened claim. If you need assistance appealing your reopened claim, contact Berry Law.

VA Disability Appeals Lawyers

Berry Law is a Veteran owned and operated firm that is committed to helping Veteran’s nationwide, and your fire support team to battle the VA. Our team has experience assisting Veterans in appealing VA denials or rating decisions that were too low. If you or somebody you know needs assistance appealing a VA rating decision, contact Berry Law–America’s Veterans Law Firm.