“Hi, I’m Joe Scott, a VA-accredited attorney with Woods and Woods, a law firm that handles VA disability claims for veterans and their eligible survivors. Today, I’m going to explain what steps your claim goes through in the decision process at the regional office level, and how you can check the status of your claim.”
How do you check your claim status?
“So, if you want to check your claim status yourself, there are several ways to do it. You can check it online at the va.gov website. Please make sure that it does have a .gov on the website if you do choose to check online. You can typically navigate to the MyVA dashboard, and around the top right corner, there should be an arrow that you can select that says ‘track claims.’
“From there, that will go into the various sets of status. You can also see if there are any open claims at that time, or if they’re under appellate status, which means they’ve been appealed for additional review and decisions.
“You can also look it up on the eBenefits account, which is another way to check your status and benefits online.
“Additionally, you can call the VA number. That number is 1-800-827-1000.
“Finally, you can go physically to a VA regional office and speak with someone there if you would like to as well.”
How long do claims take?
“The amount of time it takes to make a decision is dependent upon how many steps the VA has to work through in order to make a decision, and if they believe additional steps are necessary.
“The first step is typically noted as ‘claim received,’ which frankly is what it sounds like. It shows that the VA has received a claim, which is simple, but it’s beneficial to know in case you have submitted a claim and there is no acknowledgement of receipt. That may indicate that the VA has made an error, for example, and is not processing your case.
“Next is the initial review stage, which is typically where the rater, or what’s called the veteran service representative, will acknowledge the receipt of the claim, review the surface of the claim, and review the type of form it’s submitted on to see if they need clarification as to what you’re claiming specifically, or if they can move forward in the process.
“The third step, if necessary, is the gathering of evidence phase, which is where the VA determines that more information is needed to make a decision. They will typically either contact you, or if you’ve requested that the VA gathers evidence pursuant to what’s called their duty to assist, the VA will gather evidence, but not in every situation. So, it’s important to remember that if there’s outstanding evidence, it may be on the claimant or the representative to gather it sometimes.
“The next step is the review and decision part. I just addressed the previous step of gathering evidence, but sometimes the VA will lump those collectively together. That’s really the crux of where the decision comes from — seeing what the claim is saying, seeing what the evidence supports, and seeing if the VA has additional processes they need to get to make an informed decision.
“The next step is preparation of notification. When the VA believes they have everything that was required, they’ll prepare the actual form. They’ll explain what’s on the form. They should explain if it’s not granted in full or denied outright, what you can do to appeal it successfully, and what evidence is favorable to you. Then they’ll gather all that information to wait to be officially sent to the individual.
“Finally, there’s ‘complete’ status. That means that the VA has rendered a decision, and it should be on its way to the individual and their representative if they have one, to receive it, to review it, and decide what to do from there.
“In my experience, the VA doesn’t always use exact language with the standard claims process, even though the process more or less runs in a standardized manner. Different individuals may call the same thing by a different name, and if you talk to someone by calling the VA, for example, they may explain it in a certain manner, but if you talk to another individual, they may explain it in a separate manner. But for broad strokes purposes, those are the core elements that we’ve discussed.”
“If you were injured while serving this country and are reading this review, I encourage you to contact Woods and Woods right away. They are always standing ready to assist veterans in need.”
J.B., a Navy veteran in VirginiaGoogle review
How long does it take the VA to make a decision?
“The VA publishes the average amount of time it takes to render a decision. So far, in 2023, at the time we’re recording this, it’s between three to four months. During the height of the pandemic, it was hovering around five months, I believe.
“It is an average. Some claims are decided faster, and some are decided slower based upon several factors that we can influence, but not necessarily control. But those are the average times.
“It is possible that the VA will move faster or move onto a different or separate step sooner than you might anticipate. That can happen if you’ve submitted all the necessary evidence to make the decision. That can also happen if the VA just received prompt receipt of the evidence that they requested, so it went faster than you would expect it to.
“You can also get a faster decision if you qualify for what the VA says is priority processing. Some claims like terminal illness, extreme financial hardship, homelessness — claims of that nature — are prioritized given their inherent circumstances. Those decisions can render faster than a standard claim that might need additional development like a medical examination in order to make a decision.
“To help the process go faster, as simple as it sounds, you can make sure that all forms are filled out correctly. If possible, I typically see the VA process things a little bit cleaner if there’s mostly electronically printed information as opposed to handwriting. That may reduce the delay. If the individual can’t read it, that will certainly slow down the status of the claim.
“You should also be filling out the forms correctly, as I’ve said, and follow the directions within the VA form, even if you believe the step is unnecessary or unneeded. Sometimes, as painful as it is, we have to follow that procedure just to get a decision, and we can then address the merits of that decision, including any new and relevant evidence.
“If you’re filing what’s called a supplemental claim, which is mainly what I’m discussing here, you can make sure that it meets VA standards to make the supplemental claim appealable. That would increase the speed of your claim just by making the process go as smooth as it can.
“If the VA finds that you need to attend a medical examination, again, as unfortunate as that may be, attending the exam is necessary. The VA will typically, at a minimum, delay a decision that had a medical exam scheduled that was not attended.
“Make sure that you thoroughly explain your medical situation. Your representative can help explain what that means precisely, but to explain this to the examiner himself or herself can really help clarify what is the issue and what the VA needs to decide.”
You don’t have to do this alone
“Hiring an attorney can be advantageous to getting a claim decided faster, especially if the attorney is aware of how to expedite a claim, if it’s eligible for what’s called priority processing.
“An attorney can make sure that all necessary evidence is there to the greatest extent possible to render the correct decision the first time as opposed to just a generic or less-than-substantive appeal that may need additional development later. An attorney would know how to get the most substance out of that claim to increase the chances of it being decided properly and as fast as is possible within the VA system.”