Whether in time of war or peace, you made the decision to serve in the US armed forces and to protect the country and our way of life. In appreciation of that service, and as a perk for taking the job in the first place, you're entitled to a host of veterans' benefits.
Unfortunately, getting those benefits isn't always as easy as it should be. Sometimes, veterans are denied benefits all together. You have options, though. There are processes in place to help make sure you get the benefits you've earned and deserve.
Overview of Appeals Process
In legal jargon, an appeal is when you ask a court or legal body to take another look at a legal decision involving you or your rights. The Board of Veterans' Appeals (Board) is a part of the Veterans Administration (VA). Anyone who isn't satisfied with the results of a claim for veterans benefits can appeal to the Board, which will decide whether or not your benefits should have been denied.
It isn't over even if the Board decides against you. You can appeal that decision to the US Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, and perhaps beyond.
Get Help If You Need It
You can represent yourself at any stage of the appeals process. However, because so much is at stake, and medical and other evidence often complicates matters, it's a good idea to have representation. Veterans Service Organizations (VSOs) can give you representation free of charge.
Depending on your case, you may be allowed to hire a lawyer for the VA portion of the appeal. The VSO in your area can explain this to you.
Once you reach the Court of Veterans Claims and beyond, you can hire your own attorney.
The important thing is this: do something when you think you're not getting what you deserve. The VA is there to help veterans like you, and sometimes mistakes are made. The appeals process is there to make sure the mistakes get corrected.
Steps for Appealing a Denial of Benefits
You can appeal a decision on your claim for VA benefits for any reason. You might want to appeal because the VA denied your claim for benefits for a disability that you believe began while you were in service. You might appeal if you believe that your disability is more severe than the VA rated it. No matter the reason, the appeals process is generally the same.
It Starts with You
The first step in the appeals process is to write a notice of disagreement (PDF) and send it to your local VA office. You must send your notice of disagreement within one year of the date your local VA office mailed its original decision denying your claim.
VA Prepares a Statement of the Case
After the local VA office receives your notice of disagreement, it will create a statement of the case. This is a detailed explanation of the evidence, laws and regulations used by the local VA office in deciding your claim. The statement of the case will be mailed to you along with a VA Form 9 (PDF).
The Next Step is Yours
The VA Form 9 is the last step in the appeal process. This is where you explain what, exactly, you want the Board to look at and why you think the VA decided your case the wrong way when it denied your claim benefits. Give as much detail as possible.
The completed Form 9 must be mailed back to the VA office within:
- 60 days of the date the VA mailed you the statement of the case, or
- One year of the date it mailed you the original decision on your claim
If you don't mail it back in time, or don't mail it back at all, your appeal will be closed.
You can request a personal hearing with a Board member or a VA official at your local VA office. The hearing is informal and gives you a chance to discuss why you think the VA's decision was wrong. A decision on your case may or may not be made at your hearing.
Contact your local VA office as soon as possible to request a personal hearing. Check the appropriate box on your Form 9 if you want a personal hearing with a Board member.
Possible Outcomes of Your Appeal
Unless you requested a personal hearing, a Board member will make a decision on your appeal after reviewing the evidence in your file. The decision will allow, deny or remand your claim. Remand means your claim is sent back to the VA office for more information. There's nothing more you can do until the VA office gives the Board what it needs.
The Board's decision is final if it decided to allow or deny your claim. At that time, you may file an appeal with the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims if the Board denied your claim.
The Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims
This court isn't part of the VA; it's an independent federal court. Only veterans-claimants may seek a review by the court. The VA can't appeal Board decisions.
To appeal, you must have filed an appeal with the VA. You must file a notice of appeal with the court, postmarked within 120 days after the Board mailed its final decision.
The court does not hold trials or look at new evidence. The court reviews the same materials looked at by the Board. After the court makes its decision, either you or the VA may file an appeal to the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit and to the Supreme Court of the United States.
Questions for Your Attorney
- Should I appeal the decision of the local VA office?
- If I win an appeal, can I be reimbursed for my attorney's fees?
- What kind of evidence should I gather to help prove my claim?