Learning that the VA denied your initial claim for benefits is disheartening. Attempting to navigate the appeals process can be outright maddening. You deserve compensation for your service-related conditions and need it as quickly as possible. Having legal representation to help you through the appeals process can help.
This article explains the VA disability appeals process for decisions received after Feb. 19, 2019. Some decisions prior to that date are still being managed through the legacy system.
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In this article about how long VA appeals take
You waited months for a decision on your initial claim for VA benefits only to be told your claim was denied. Now you’re understandably frustrated and wondering how long it will take to appeal a VA decision. Is it even worth it? Unfortunately, even under the revised process meant to make appeals easier, there are various factors to consider. This post explains the appeals process and why you may want help from legal counsel with experience in veterans’ disability cases.
A brief history of the appeals process
Before we dig into the details about appeals, here’s some context on how the appeals process changed in the not-so-distant past.
The Veterans Appeals Modernization Act of 2017 became law in August 2017. It applies to all VA disability decisions received after Feb. 19, 2019. This act aimed to streamline the VA appeals process by providing alternatives for having a VA decision reviewed.
Before this process, the VA typically took five to seven years to decide appeals due to long processing times at the regional office level. The revised system allows veterans to advance their appeals to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals sooner. So far, however, veterans haven’t seen a significant reduction in their overall wait time. The claims backlog still exists–now it’s at the BVA.
Unfortunately, this move also made the appeals process more confusing for veterans by providing multiple paths for appeals.
What are the stages of a VA appeal?
When you file a disability benefits claim, you can expect to wait a few months before you receive a decision. The average wait time is 104.1 days.
If you disagree with your rating decision, you have three options regarding how you would like the VA to review your case – and each of them takes a different amount of time to complete. If the VA denies a claim through one of these three methods, you can choose another of the options without filing a totally new claim, as long as the appeal and denial happen within a year.
Remember that, depending on the type of appeal you choose, you may need to spend time gathering new evidence, which will add time to the process before the appeal even begins.
The three appeals options are:
- Higher-Level Review – If you don’t have new evidence to support your claim, you can ask for a higher-level claims adjuster in the Veterans Benefits Administration to review and reconsider your original claim.
- Supplemental Claim – If you have new, relevant evidence to support your claim, you can ask the Veterans Benefits Administration to reconsider your original claim with the new evidence.
- Appeal to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals – If you would like the BVA to rule on your original claim’s decision, you have three routes you can take. They are:
- Direct review – This docket triggers a direct review by the Board of Veterans’ Appeals with the same evidence on the original claim. The board has one year from the filing date to review the claim. A veterans law judge makes these decisions. There’s no hearing. The judge simply decides the case based on the case file. You would choose this option if you don’t need to submit new evidence and your case doesn’t present any unique questions or issues.
- Evidence Only – This docket allows you to submit new evidence for your claim within 90 days after you submit your appeal. If you don’t submit new evidence, the BVA closes your record. When you submit new evidence, a Veterans Law Judge reviews it, but there still is no hearing. The judge decides based on the newly-submitted evidence and the initial case file. You would select this option if the VA denied your claim because it lacked proof, but you have additional evidence that you think will reverse this decision.
- Hearing docket – Selecting this option means you’ll have a BVA hearing. You also can submit evidence within 90 days following the scheduled hearing. You should use this option if you think your case presents a novel question of law that you want to address, either directly or through a VA attorney. You also can request a hearing if you think your case would benefit from your in-person testimony. It’s essential to remember that there are a limited number of judges, so your request for a hearing will shut down your appeal for years. In other words, this is the slowest option.
Because there are now multiple options for your approach to appeal, and the choice you make is vital to the likelihood your appeal will be approved and the time it will take, it may be best to seek advice from an attorney who has experience in the VA appeals process.
What is the average wait time for a VA appeal?
It’s almost impossible to guess how long the appeals process may take. The average wait time for a decision on your initial claim is about 104.1 days. Then you would need to file an appeal after that. Your wait time depends on which appeals lane you choose and how long it takes for the VBA or the BVA to get through the appeals in front of them. Most veterans wait at least a year. Others wait several.
Appeals to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals (BVA) take longer. The following chart shows the average number of days for NOD/BVA appeals in the most recent fiscal years.
VA-certified disability benefits attorney Zack Evans said the AMA hasn’t sped up the process as much as expected.
“The AMA promised to streamline the process, but remember, this is the VA. It hasn’t really lived up to the hype,” he said. “The promises of faster decisions under the AMA appear to be drying up. The backlog is growing.”
The vital thing to remember is that you deserve benefits for your service-related conditions, and it will be worth the process in the long run.
Is there any way to speed up the VA appeals process?
The VA recognizes that some veterans are in situations that don’t allow them to wait years for an appeal. As a result, it allows veterans to expedite VA disability claims because of financial hardship, homelessness, terminal illness, or age.
Reasons the VA will expedite appeals:
- Extreme Financial Hardship – The VA will review your overall financial situation and determine if you’re experiencing extreme hardship. This hardship doesn’t mean you don’t have enough money right now. Instead, the VA looks for a pattern of inability to pay bills or afford things like food, medical expenses, transportation, or shelter. Extreme financial hardship also may be if a veteran’s home is in foreclosure.
- Homelessness – If you don’t have a fixed, regular nighttime residence or live in a homeless shelter, transitional housing, hotel, or outside the VA, you may expedite your disability claim. Unfortunately, the VA doesn’t expedite every claim homeless vets file.
- Advanced Age – The VA defines this trait as 75 years of age or older.
- Terminal Illness – If you are diagnosed with a terminal illness and can provide evidence of that diagnosis, the VA may expedite your claim. The VA also may expedite your claim if you’re in hospice care.
Woods and Woods can help
If you experience a physical or mental health condition connected to your military service and the VA denies your claim, contact Woods and Woods to appeal the decision. The stakes are high, and the timeline is long, so you want experienced legal counsel to help you navigate the appeals process. You only pay us if we win.
All of our attorneys are VA-certified. Call us and join the thousands of veterans we have helped to receive the VA disability benefits they deserve.
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FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Sadly, we can’t give an exact answer to that question. Appeals under the current process established by the Veterans Appeals Modernization Act of 2017, commonly called AMA, vary depending on which appeals lane you choose. A supplemental claim or higher-level review could take less than a year, while veterans who appeal to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals could wait years for a decision. Depending on your situation and the VA backlog of claims and appeals, it could take longer.
The acceptance rate for appeals is about 30-38% in 2021. Your chances of winning an appeal are greater if you have experienced legal counsel advising you through the process instead of trying to do it alone.