Veterans who are denied disability benefits by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) or are given a disability rating that is too low to accurately reflect their disability have the option to appeal the VA’s decision. Unfortunately, the VA has built a complicated structure, and many Veterans get confused among the different appeal options and deadlines that can affect their claim. To overcome the hurdles, Veterans often benefit from the assistance of an experienced VA disability attorney in appealing their claim.
At Berry Law, we help Veterans appeal unfavorable VA decisions to get all the disability benefits they deserve. In 2020 alone, we helped Veterans recover over $60 million in retroactive disability benefits from the VA. Featuring attorneys from the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps, we understand how difficult the VA appeals process can be and have experience helping fellow Veterans get the benefits they earned. We’ve handled every type of VA appeal and can provide you the legal firepower you need. Contact Berry Law today for a free case evaluation.
Keep reading to learn more about the possible appeal lanes Veterans have when appealing their VA claim(s).
Understanding Your VA Appeal Options
In 2017, the Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act (AMA) was passed in an effort to expedite the appeals process for Veterans. The goal was to help Veterans get decisions quicker and, in turn, get the disability compensation they need faster.
The Appeals Modernization Act also added multiple decision review lanes to the VA appeals process, each with their own specific advantages and disadvantages. While this has led to quicker decisions for Veterans, it has also led to some confusion as Veterans may not know which option is best for their claim.
Veterans who are not satisfied with the VA’s decision on their claim can request a decision review or appeal through a(n):
- Higher-Level Review
- Supplemental Claim Review
- Appeal to the Board of Veterans Appeals (BVA)
- Appeal to the CAVC
Requesting a Higher-Level Review
Veterans who are not satisfied with the VA’s decision can request a de novo review. This means that the Veterans claim will be looked at by a more experienced VA claims adjudicator. When a Veteran chooses this lane, they can request an informal phone conference with the claims adjudicator to discuss their issues. A decision in this lane takes an average of 125 days.
Using this option, Veterans can provide new arguments to point out errors in facts or law by the VA. However, Veterans appealing through the Higher-Level Review lane are not allowed to submit any additional evidence to support their claim. This is one of the biggest disadvantages of the Higher-Level Review lane, but Veterans who wish to submit additional evidence can do so by utilizing the Supplemental Claim lane (discussed below).
To file a Higher-Level Review, Veterans must submit VA form 20-0996.
If you need assistance requesting a Higher-Level Review, contact Berry Law to see if we can help.
Appealing Through the Supplemental Claim Lane
Another option that Veterans can use to appeal the VA’s decision is the Supplemental Claim lane. This is perhaps the most common VA appeal lane. To submit an appeal through the Supplemental Claim lane, a Veteran must provide the VA with “new and relevant evidence.”
New and relevant evidence is any new evidence that can help prove your claim. Some examples of new and relevant evidence submitted along with a Supplemental Claim lane appeal include:
- Buddy Statements: Statements from friends and family can help prove you were injured in service, especially if they can compare any impairment to your prior ability to function, or if they can attest to seeing an injury occur firsthand.
- Medical Records: A confirmed diagnosis from an independent medical examination can help show that you are dealing with more severe symptoms than what the VA assumes you have.
- Medical Opinions: A statement from a private physician expressing that your current disability is at least as likely as not to be related to your service can help with service connection.
- Newspaper Articles: Newspaper articles at the time of your injury can help prove the event or stressor that caused your disability.
- Images: Photographs can help show the VA that you were in a specific location at a particular time, even if records do not show you were there.
When appealing through this lane, the VA has a duty to assist you in gathering new and relevant evidence. For a Veteran to appeal through the Supplemental Claim lane, they must submit additional evidence along with VA Form 20-0995.
If you need assistance appealing your decision through the Supplemental Claim lane, contact Berry Law to see if we can assist you.
Appealing to the Board of Veterans Appeals (BVA)
Veterans can also appeal to the Board of Veterans Appeals (BVA). To appeal in this lane, a Veteran must appeal directly to the Board with a notice of disagreement (NOD). Unlike other lanes, the VA cannot assist you in developing additional evidence if you choose this lane. When appealing to the BVA, however, there are multiple different appeal options to choose from. Veterans can request:
- A Direct Review: Veterans should choose this BVA appeal option if they do not want to submit any additional evidence or request a hearing. These decisions take approximately 365 days.
- Evidence Submission: Veterans should choose this BVA appeal option if they would like to submit additional evidence in support of the claim. Veterans have 90 days from filing the NOD to submit supporting evidence. These appeals take over a year on average for a decision to be made.
- A Hearing: Veterans should choose this BVA appeal option if want to supply the VA with additional evidence and testify in front of a Veterans Law Judge. You must submit evidence at the hearing or within 90 days of the hearing when appealing this way. It takes more than a year on average for a decision to be made on this type of appeal.
If you need assistance appealing to the BVA, contact Berry Law to see if we can assist you.
Veterans who are unsatisfied with decisions at the BVA can appeal to the Court of Appeals to Veterans Claims (CAVC).
Appealing to the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims (CAVC)
The CAVC is a national court in Washington D.C. that hears appeals by Veterans who were not satisfied with the BVA’s decision. The CAVC hears cases related to disability benefits, survivor benefits, education benefits, and reimbursement for unauthorized medical payments.
When appealing to the CAVC, Veterans should understand that they only review your existing claim file in most cases. A judge or panel of judges will review the claim before making a decision. They also may request oral arguments, but this is less common.
Decisions at the CAVC can:
- Interpret Constitutional, statutory, and regulatory provisions of cases decided by the BVA
- Determine the meaning or application of the BVA’s decision
- Require the VA to follow the CAVC’s ruling
Upon reviewing the case, the CAVC will either affirm the BVA’s decision or send the claim back to the BVA to correct its decision. When the claim is sent back to the BVA, this means the claim was remanded.
Veterans wishing to appeal to the CAVC have 120 days from the BVA’s decision to file an appeal. They must also identify their attorney unless they choose to appeal the decision pro se (on their own). However, if a Veteran appeals their decision pro se, they must follow all the court’s rules and procedures.
Veterans who appeal to the CAVC pro se are typically at a disadvantage as these cases are often complex. On top of that, the legal proceedings in these cases are nuanced.
Berry Law has experience handling appeals at the CAVC. Contact our team today if you need assistance appealing your claim to the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims.
Berry Law – The American Veteran’s Law Firm
Berry Law is America’s Veterans Law Firm, and your fire support team to battle the VA. We won’t stop fighting until every Veteran receives all the disability benefits they deserve.
We’ve helped Veterans with appeals though the Higher-Level Review lane, through the Supplemental Claim lane, to the Board of Veterans Appeals (BVA), and to the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims (CAVC). If you need assistance appealing your claim, our team can help with any lane, and can help you understand which option may be best for you.
Contact Berry Law today to schedule a free case evaluation.