Every once in a while, we need to “Get Back to Basics”.
And to the 11,369 new followers that first visited the Veterans Law Blog so far in February – welcome!
From the minute you file your VA Claim, it is destined to follow a specific path.
That’s not the “conventional wisdom”.
Conventional wisdom tells you that the VA Backlog is going to drag your claim out for years – and that may be true.
But I believe that Veterans that properly and fully develop their VA Claims, that make clear and persuasive arguments on appeal, and that look for creative ways to use the system to their advantage will get out of this VA Hamster Wheel in much shorter times.
Don’t believe me? Here’s what one Vet recently posted in a popular Veterans forum:
Anyway, here are the basic steps of the VA Claims Process in a nutshell – I’ll discuss what happens at each, below.
VA Regional Office
Board of Veterans Appeals
Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims
Federal Circuit Court of Appeals
Supreme Court of the United States
Step 1: The VA Regional Office (VARO)
The VA Regional Office is the starting point for all VA disability compensation claims.
When a veteran files his or her claim for disability compensation, it first goes to the VA Regional Office geographically closest to the Veteran. The VARO is supposed to:
→ Collect all the service medical records required by law, and all those records relevant to the claim
→Provide assistance to the Veteran in looking for and developing additional evidence in support of the Veteran’s claim.
→ Where necessary or appropriate, send the Veteran for medical exams and opinions to for diagnostic or nexus purposes.
The VARO can take a very short time, or a very long time, in deciding your claim.
The statistical average is about 9-18 months, but lately we are seeing claims where the VA Regional Office is taking in excess of 18 months on the initial claim.
The time depends quite a bit on which VA Regional Office you are working with, and the complexity of your claim.
A tinnitus claim, for example, will be decided relatively quickly.
A claim related to Agent Orange exposure for a Navy veteran claiming to be a Brown Water Navy Veteran will likely take much longer.
Step 2: Board of Veterans Appeals (BVA)
The Board of Veterans Appeals (BVA) is located in Washington D.C.
It is a part of the Department of Veterans Affairs, and essentially provides administrative review of the VA’s denial of all or part of your claim for VA disability compensation.
After the VARO denies all or part of a Veteran’s claim, the Veteran will go through a process to “perfect the appeal” to the VA.
You can select from 4 types of hearings before the BVA – and I encourage you to strongly consider which is best for your VA Claim before you just “check a block and go for the in-person hearing”.
- In-person BVA hearing in Washington, Dc
- Travel Board hearing at the local Regional Office
- Video Conference hearing
- No hearing
The individuals who will decide your claim are called “Veterans Law Judges”, and there are less than 100 of them deciding tens of thousands of claims every year.
For this reason, a BVA appeal can take over 2-3 years to reach decision, from the date of filing your Notice of Disagreement (NOD) to the date that the BVA issues its findings.
The Veteran’s appeal to the BVA will result in any number of outcomes:
- Remand to the VARO for further development
- Reverse the decision of the VARO
- Deny the Veteran relief
- Order its own Independent Medical Exam (IME)
- Any combination of the above.
Step 3: Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims
If the Veteran’s claim for disability compensation is denied by the BVA, the Veteran has a specific timeline in which the Veteran may file an appeal to the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims (CAVC).
The U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims was the product of 38 years of fighting by Veterans advocates and Veteran Service Organizations.
In 1988, the Veterans’ Judicial Review Act of 1988 created this court, to give Veterans a judicial recourse when they were denied benefits.
The Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims can take the following actions in deciding a Veteran’s Appeal:
→ Remand for further development (typically occurs in more than 50% of appeals to the CAVC).
→ Affirm the BVA decision;
→ Reverse the BVA decision (a very rare occurrence);
→ Any combination of the above.
On the Veterans Law Blog, you will see that I frequently discuss the single judge and precedential decisions of the Veterans Court – in a unique way that teaches Veterans how to USE the Court’s decisions to improve their VA Claims.
Steps 4 and 5: Federal Circuit Court of Appeals & Supreme Court of the United States.
If the Veteran loses at the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, the Veteran can appeal certain matters to the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals, and, ultimately, the United States Supreme Court.
These types of appeals are very rare, and are usually only available to challenge improper interpretations of the laws, rules and regulations in a Veterans’ claim.
Where can Veterans Learn More about the VA Claims Process.
Here are 2 ways that you can learn a lot more about the VA Claims Process – and – more importantly, how to get through it a lot quicker.
#2: Check out my eBook: Climbing the VA Claims Process. In this book, I will give you more detail about what happens at each level of the VA Claims Process. Click here to learn more about the eBook and pick up your copy today.
#3: Ask me questions about the VA Claims Process. Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org – though I get over 200 emails a day, I try to respond to as many as I can. If enough of you ask me the same question, I will write a post on the Veterans Law Blog to answer it.