“Mr. Attig, we can’t do your client’s hearing by video,” the voice on the other line said.
“You see, your client asked for a Travel Board hearing, and without good cause we can’t move the hearing to the Video Conference docket.”
The voice on the other end of the line was a Station Hearing Coordinator at a major VA Regional Office
I was dumbfounded – from my perspective, my client wanted his “day in Court”.
He didn’t care if his hearing was live in front of the Judge or via video conference.
Hell, he was so happy his claim was moving forward he might have done the hearing by smoke signal.
We ended up having to withdraw the Travel Board Hearing request, get it assigned to the Video Hearing Docket, and it added 6 months to the adjudication of his BVA Hearing Request.
These events took place several years ago, and the client’s claim has long since been fully resolved.
That was a powerful lesson that learned for me. A lesson I’m going to pass on to you.
Here it is:
Give Serious Consideration to the type of BVA Hearing you Request.
Before you can give serious consideration to the type of BVA Hearing you request, you
have know the different ways that you can interact with the BVA.
So let me tell you about the Big 4:
* Travel Board Hearing,
* Video BVA Hearing,
* Written Arguments without a Hearing
* No hearing or arguments at all.
The 4 Ways of Interacting with the BVA in an Appeal.
#1: No Hearing or Arguments at All.
Let’s just scratch this off the list – I cannot think of one time when a Veteran would want to forego any opportunity to interact with the BVA on their appeal. It makes no sense to me…even if you were trying to get a nuanced legal issue to the Veterans Court, you still want to take the time to set your argument up at the BVA.
If you can think of a scenario where a Veteran might benefit from filing a BVA appeal, but not arguing their position before a BVA Judge at all, let me know.
#2: Written Arguments Without a Hearing.
Generally, you might want to use this method of presenting your argument in a couple of scenarios:
Scenario A: You are a much more persuasive writer than speaker.
Scenario B: You have a mental health condition, or a physical condition that, in the past, has led people to make assumptions about your credibility.
This scenario often comes up in appeals involving Military Sexual Trauma (MST) claims – because of the built up pain of the assault, an unwillingness to talk freely about the experience might often lead a judge to conclude that a person is not testifying credibly, or is being evasive.
Scenario C: You have absolutely no new evidence – and no new testimony – to enter into the record, and all you are doing is making a factual or legal argument.
This is the case for some of my clients’ BVA hearings.
Because the results in my cases show that I am exponentially more persuasive in person than in writing, I worry that I am not giving my clients’ 100% if I argue in writing when I have a chance to argue in person at a hearing.
#3: Video Conference Hearing.
This type of hearing occurs when a Veteran appears at their local Regional Office for the hearing, and they can communicate with a BVA Judge in Washington, D.C., via a video conference hook-up.
Because they are easier to conduct – and don’t require any travel expenses for the judge – you will get a much quicker BVA Hearing Date if you request a Video Conference hearing.
And here’s the thing…you don’t need to be in the same RO where your claim is held.
Let’s say your going to be visiting your Aunt Betty Sue in Fargo, North Dakota, and the Waco Regional Office schedules your BVA hearing smack dab in the middle of your visit to Betty Sue.
Get in touch with the Station Hearing Coordinator at the Waco Regional Office and ask them to set up a video conference so that you can appear at the Fargo, North Dakota Regional Office for your hearing.
It’s a little known secret that every major VA Medical Center has the same technology that the BVA and VAROs use for BVA Hearings…so if you are nowhere near a VA Regional Office on the date your BVA Video Hearing is set, you can ask that you be able to appear at the nearest major VA Medical Center for your hearing, and save yourself some travel time and cost.
Here’s one more for you, too….let’s say you have a BVA hearing set in the St. Petersburg, Florida, VA Regional Office on February 12th. One of your witnesses, someone who will testify favorably in your case, lives in Los Angeles, California.
Do they have to come to Florida for the hearing?
You just need to coordinate with the person at your Regional Office to set up a 3-way video Conference: you in St. Petersburg, the Judge in DC, and your witness at the Los Angeles Regional Office.
The key? Find out who your Station Hearing Coordinator is.
How do you do that?
Call the Veterans Information Office (800) 923-8387 or the BVA Ombudsman at (202) 632-4623, and ask them for the name and contact info for the Station Hearing Coordinator at your local Regional Office so that you can work out the details of a video-conference BVA hearing.
#4: Travel Board Hearing:
This is the least favored option for a BVA Hearing – but unfortunately, it is the one that most Veterans automatically choose.
Unless you have a reason where you absolutely need to be face to face with the Judge at your BVA Hearing, I find it hard to justify asking for a Travel Board Hearing.
It delays the appeal – by months.
Especially at smaller Regional Offices, there are few Travel Board hearings scheduled because the case load is smaller.
Since the Judge has to Travel, the BVA issues a Master Schedule for BVA Travel Board Hearings every Fiscal Year – and the schedule is decided based on demand.
When there are enough Travel Board Hearings to justify the cost of sending a Judge (and paying for 2 travel days with no work, and per diem, etc), then the hearings get scheduled.
And its darn near impossible – as I showed in the story above – to get a Travel Board Hearing rescheduled, converted to a Video Hearing, etc.
Bottom Line: Before you File your BVA Hearing Request, think it through.
What type of interaction do you REALLY need, and why?
Making a smart decision now could save you years of waiting in your BVA appeal later.
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