That means it is up to you to make sure that your VA Claim is the best it can be.
On one hand, it may help you avoid the VA Hamster Wheel altogether….
….on the other hand, by filing your claim right, you have a much better chance of reversing a bad VA Ratings decision on appeal.
So how do you do this, exactly?
How does a Veteran make sure that they get the best VA Ratings Decision possible, the first time around?
The 5 items on this checklist will help you answer that question.
Step #1: Learn How to File Your VA Claim, the first time, the right way
If you just file your claim, and wait for the VA to develop your case on its timeline, you will wait years.
If you hire a VSO and all they do is file your claim and let the VA do the work, then you will wait for years.
But if YOU learn to file a VA Claim the right way, you will be able to get a faster decision – and hopefully a more correct and thorough one – from the VA.
The whole purpose of the Veterans Law Blog® is to teach you, the Veteran, how to file, prove and (hopefully) win your VA Claim the first time around.
There are a TON of resources on this website…..here are a couple:
* Check out the 8 Steps to Improving your VA Disability Claim or Appeal
* Get a free 7-day trial membership to the Veterans Law Blog® search the 1000+ posts on VA law topics spanning 10 years of research and writing.
* Check out the various video training packages: learn how to write better arguments in your VA Claim or Appeal, learn how to File a VA Claim the right way, learn how to prove the 4 Pillars of a VA Service Connection claim, or learn how to get your VA C-File….and how to USE it when you get it
By the way, If you purchase the “Every Veterans Law Blog Product” package, you save a ton of money and get a 50% discount on an annual membership.
Use the resources on this website…..or tell me what is missing so I can add that information to our content publishing schedule.
These resources have helped a lot of Veterans like you get out of the VA Hamster Wheel….hear what they have to say.
Step #2: Sometimes, you just have to wait.
Sometimes that is all it takes. The VA has a very real problem with timely processing of claims and appeals. And no matter what they try, it inevitably fails to improve things, and just pushes the problem further down the pipeline. First there was the provisional claims decision process, then there was the FDC process, then they started this project called “VA Appeals Reform”, which was just signed in to law in mid-2017. (More on that, elsewhere).
The VA typically works new claims (or tells folks that it works) on a “First-In-First-Out” basis.
This means that it could take up to 18 months to get an initial decision on even a straightforward and well proved claim for benefits.
If your claim has been denied (or partially/incorrectly granted) and you filed a Notice of Disagreement, then you could be waiting anywhere from 3-8 years to get a BVA Decision. Appeals certified to the BVA are assigned a docket number based on the date of the VA Form 9, and as of 2017, the VA was still working on VA9’s filed in 2013-2014.
Bottom line, if you have filed a claim for VA Compensation, it is probably going to take the VA Regional office between 6 and 18 months to issue an initial decision in your claim.
Step #3: I’ve waited long enough – and still don’t have a ratings decision.
Have you waited 18 months? Still no decision?
The second most common reason for delays in VA Decision is the poor presentation of your claim.
There are some legitimate reasons that an initial decision could take more than 18 months, but not very many. And if you are here reading this post, those legitimate reasons probably don’t apply to you.
There are very clear patterns in the VA’s delay – or “backlog”.
How did I know that there are very clear patterns?
As a VA benefits lawyer, I have looked at hundreds – quite probably thousands – of VA Claims Files. And as I did those C-File reviews, I took notes. I studied patterns. And make no mistake, patterns emerged.
I found 5 patterns that most delayed VA Claims had in common. And I found that by fixing these big 5 problems as a VA benefits attorney representing my clients, I could get a quicker decision from the VA for my client.
I want to share these 5 patterns with you – because I believe that you can solve the majority of your VA Claims problems by focusing on fixing these 5 problems.
So I have published an eBook that describes the 5 biggest patterns that lead to a Veterans claim for benefits not getting a decision in a reasonable amount of time. Here’s where you can get a copy of this eBook.
If you have been waiting more than 18 months for your VA Ratings Decision, and have not gotten it, the first thing you can do is to fix these 5 problems.
IF you’ve tried those 5 things, then your problem may be the WAY you proved your claim – check out the training video “How to Prove the 4 Pillars of a VA Claim” and see if you can tighten your claim up even more.
Step #4: The VA Handles the EASY Claims First.
What’s an “easy” claim?
In my experience, the easy claims are the ones that a VA Rater can look at, easily understand, and decide with minimal work. That means:
* You speak the VAs Jargon
* You’ve clearly explained each of the 4 Pillars of Your VA Claim.
* Your writing is clear, simple, and persuasive.
This last point is – I believe – the most important.
Most Veterans send piles of medical records and forms in to the VA, and when nothing happens, they resend the same pile of paper with a cover letter or VA Form 21-4138 ranting about the VA’s incompetence.
I call this “Giving the VA a Haystack, and Yelling When They Can’t Find the Needle”.
It’s the quickest way to guarantee that your VA Claim is going to end up in a box in the VA Regional Office file room, until someone decides to invest the time to figure out your claim.
An alternative is to present a clear and persuasive argument to the VA – one that makes them WANT to grant your claim.
Let’s face it, writing is hard for most folks.
But it doesn’t have to be.
You can learn how to write persuasively without having to go back to grammar school. Try my 5 Step Method to improving your writing – I call it “Get to the POINT”. It’s the method that I use as a Veterans benefits attorney in writing appeals for my own VA benefits clients.
Step #5: I’ve “fixed” these problems, and I’m still waiting.
This, unfortunately, is the symptom of a bigger problem in your VA Claim or Appeal.
Short of producing a “paper trail” to present to the CAVC in a Petition for Writ of Mandamus, there isn’t a whole lot to do to FORCE the VA’s hand if they are just refusing to take action.
A lot of Veterans will contact their congressional representative for help…that often makes things worse. When a “Congressional” is filed with the VA, the VA flags the claim and stops processing it while they work things out with the Congressional. In 10 years of doing this work, I have seen a Congressperson help a Veteran – really help a Veteran get a decision in their claim – less than a dozen times.
Bottom Line – Some of you will need a VA Benefits Attorney to help.
While the 5 Steps I have listed above will help most Veterans to dramatically reduce their VA Claims decision wait time, they won’t help everyone.
There are some claims that the VA will take forever on. And in these cases, you are going to want to reach out to a VA Benefits Attorney to assist you in your VA Claim or Appeal. Here are some examples of the types of situations I am talking about:
Example 1: You received a BVA Decision denying all or part of your claim.
When you get here, the “rules” change – the VA will have an attorney, and the attorney’s job is to work in the best interest of his (or her) client – the Secretary of the VA.
The types of errors that the Veterans Court can review – and the remedy that they can provide – is much smaller than what the BVA can do.
I would not hesitate to contact an accredited VA attorney to handle an appeal of a bad BVA decision to the Veterans Court.
Example 2: Vietnam era Veterans that served in Korea, Thailand, or who were a Brown Water Navy Vet.
The VA may quickly deny your claim, but they will take forever to adjudicate your appeal or challenges to effective dates.
The VA doesn’t like applying the favorable Nehmer effective date rules in your cases, and you will probably need the help of a Veterans Benefits Attorney in your Agent Orange effective date claim if you were exposed to Agent Orange outside the Republic of Vietnam
Example 3: Survivor Benefits claims take a long time.
There are a couple reasons for this. First, on the totem pole of VA claims, survivors are lowest. Second, it has been my experience that most VA raters and DROs don’t understand the complexities of VA Survivor benefits claims.
If you are denied survivor benefits, you will likely need the help of a Veterans disability attorney to help prove service-connection of the cause of the Vhttps://www.veteranslawblog.org/dependency-indemnity-compensation/eterans death, entitlement to Accrued Benefits, and eligibility for substitution into a deceased Veteran’s claim.
Example 4: Military Sexual Trauma claims can take a long time.
The primary reason for delays in Military Sexual trauma claims is that the VA makes MST victims jump through more hoops than other Veterans. This means that Lay Evidence is extremely powerful in claims for VA disability compensation resulting from a MST – a Veterans disability lawyer can help you to collect and present this complicated and difficult to find Lay Evidence in your MST claim.
If you have a claim for disability compensation due to a rape or sexual assault in the military – be sure to read this inspirational post by a very public and visible MST Survivor.
By the way – I am working on a Veterans Law Guidebook for MST Survivors battling the VA – click here to find out how to get your advance copy of my Military Sexual Trauma Guidebook.
There are many other claims that the VA takes a long time with – but these are just a handful I chose to illustrate reasons WHY the VA takes so long.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m not making excuses for the VA’s delays. I am a firm believer that if the lower levels of the VA bureaucracy can act like professionals with a job, rather than caretakers of veterans in a paternalistic system, then claims shouldn’t take more than a few months to properly decide and rate.
Work through this checklist, and if you still don’t get results, then submit a support ticket and I’ll start seeing if I can find a new pattern, and a new solution (I get over 2,500 emails and messages a week from Veterans, so you will likely not get an answer, but I do read these emails to find new ways to help more Veterans.