You will find that, with few exceptions, until you’ve received a VA rating decision letter on your claim, attorneys will not able to assist you in challenging the VA.
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 rating decision letter on appeal.
So how do you do this, exactly?
How does a Veteran make sure that they get the best VA rating decision letter 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 always had a very real problem with timely processing of claims and appeals. This was true in the Legacy Appeals process, and it will inevitably be true in the Modernized Appeal process.
No matter what they try, it inevitably fails to improve things, and the VA just kicks the can a little further down the road.
First there was the provisional claims decision process, then there was the FDC process, then they started this project called “VA Modernized Appeals Reform.”
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 6-18 months to get an initial decision on even a straightforward and well proved claim for benefits.
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.
When you do get a VA rating decision letter, if it is under the new Modernized Appeals Process, then your decision is – in theory – going to look a little different. Now, I’ve seen the “new” VA rating decision letters, and they look exactly like the old ones, sometimes worse. But, in theory, here are the things that the VA is supposed to put in your new AMA VA rating decision letters.
“AMA” is a short-hand reference to the modernized appeals process. The Legacy Appeals process is the old one, that is going to be going on for many veterans for decades.
The contents of the new and modernized VA rating decision letter are:
#1: The VA must identify what issues are adjudicated
#2: The VA must summarize the evidence considered
#3: The VA must summarize the applicable laws and regulations
#4: The VA must identify findings of law and fact that are favorable to the veteran
#5: In case of a denial, the VA must identify which elements of the claim were not satisfied and led to the denial
#6: The VA must explain how to obtain or access evidence used in making the decision
#7: Where applicable, the VA must identify the criteria that must be satisfied to grant service connection or the next higher level of compensation.
Step #3: I’ve waited long enough – and still don’t have a VA rating decision letter.
Have you waited 18 months? Still no decision?
Let me be 100% candid with you: the second most common reason for delay in receiving a VA rating decision letter 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 rating Decision letter, and have not gotten it, the first thing you can do is work 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.
And, if you’ve tried both of those steps, then the problem might be the quality of the VA Claims evidence that you are using. Is your evidence 5-star evidence? Are you using Lay Evidence properly? What about medical records and other medical evidence – have you used the right medical evidence? In a TDIU claim, did you get a report from a Vocational Rehabilitation Expert?
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.
* You’ve included the RIGHT amount of “5-Star Evidence” to support each fact in each of those 4 Pillars.
* 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.
Once the BVA denies all or part of your claim, the next step is the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims.
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, with experience at the US Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, 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 veteran’s 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.
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.