The Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims (CAVC) started off 2012 with a very positive decision for Veteran’s survivors when it issued its opinion in Quattlebaum v. Shinseki.
Here’s how it used to be: When a Veteran passed away, and had a pending claim for benefits, his survivor (typically a spouse or eligible surviving parent or child) had the ability to file a claim for “accrued benefits” (Click on the link to read more about accrued benefits claims).
If the survivor was denied accrued benefits in a final decision (remember, a final decision is one where a timely appeal was never filed), that used to be the end of the road for the Veteran’s survivor’s accrued benefits claim. Until now, the only way to get an accrued benefits claim reopened was to show that the VA violated its “Duty to Assist” the Veteran during his/her lifetime, and that if the VA had not violated the Duty, the Veteran would have had evidence to prove his/her claim for benefits.
Here’s how it is now: The CAVC ruled that – insofar as reopening the claim is concerned – an accrued benefits claim is no different from any other type of benefits claim. If a survivor finds “new and material evidence” to support the elements of an accrued benefits claim, then the VA must reopen the claim.
Why is this a big deal? In my experience, the VA routinely denies “accrued benefits” claims in anything but the most clearly obvious situations. By denying the accrued benefits claims, I think that the VA knew that a large number of survivors would just abandon the appeal and give up the claim. Now, when Veterans’ survivors decide that an attorney may be able to help them with their accrued benefits claim, the survivor has some options to reopen the denied claim and pursue the compensation the Veteran and his/her spouse is still entitled to.
One important note. First, it is crucial to note that the Quattlebaum decision does NOT change the fact that a survivor must apply for accrued benefits within one (1) year of the Veteran’s death. If a survivor does not file in that one year, it is going to be virtually impossible to successfully pursue the claim for accrued benefits.
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