If the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) denies your disability claim, it doesn’t mean you don’t deserve benefits or that your chances of receiving them are over. You can appeal VA disability decisions you think are incorrect, and there are multiple methods of appeal, depending on your unique situation.
This post applies to veterans who received a VA disability decision 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 the VA disability appeal process
- How to appeal a VA disability rating
- Options for VA disability appeal
- Asking for a higher-level review
- Filing a supplemental claim
- Appealing to the BVA
- How many times can I appeal a VA disability rating?
- How long do VA appeals take?
- How a VA disability appeal lawyer can help
If you want to appeal the VA’s decision on your disability claim, your options in the VA’s newest appeals system depend on a variety of factors:
- Do you have new evidence to present?
- Would you like your claim to be reviewed at a VA regional office or by the Board of Veterans’ Appeals?
- Do you want to present your case during a hearing?
The current appeals system is commonly called AMA. It stands for Appeals Modernization Act, a 2017 law passed by Congress aimed to streamline and accelerate the VA appeals process by providing alternatives for having a VA decision reviewed.
This article will help you understand and navigate the AMA process.
How to appeal a VA disability rating
When you file a disability benefits claim, you can expect to wait a few months before you receive a rating decision. The average wait time is about 110.9 days.
If you disagree with the rating decision, you have three options regarding how you would like the VA to further review your case. Each of the options takes a different amount of time to complete. If the VA denies a claim through one of these three methods, you can generally file another type of appeal within one year of the decision you disagree with.
If you decide to appeal, you may want to consider getting legal help. The appeals process can be confusing. A VA-certified disability lawyer can help you choose the process most likely to result in success and the largest benefit.
Options for VA disability appeal
You have three options for VA disability appeals. Because there are now multiple ways to approach an appeal, your choice is vital to the likelihood of your appeal’s approval. The decision also is essential to the time it will take to receive approval. Having an attorney can help you navigate the process.
The three appeals options are:
- Higher-Level Review (HLR) – asking the VA to review the original claim based on evidence already in your file
- Supplemental Claim – asking the VA to review the original claim with additional evidence
- Appeal to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals (BVA) – requesting a Veterans Law Judge review your claim
Regardless of your chosen path, your appeal must occur within a year of the original decision if you want to preserve your effective date as the date of your initial claim. These paths to appeal are explained more below.
Asking for a higher-level review
Veterans can request higher-level review when a VA disability benefits claim is denied, including but not limited to when an incorrect disability rating or effective date is assigned.
This review is of the original claim with no additional evidence. You submit the appeal to the VA Evidence Intake Center, and a senior reviewer at a VA regional office reviews and reconsiders your claim. This reviewer has the authority to reverse prior decisions.
That person can also instruct the VA to obtain additional evidence, such as VA examinations and medical opinions. It is important to note that if you file a higher-level review appeal and get a decision, a request for an HLR cannot be filed to appeal that HLR decision. You must instead utilize either a supplemental claim or a board appeal (discussed below).
To request higher-level review, you file VA Form 20-0996 Decision Review Request: Higher-Level Review.
Filing a supplemental claim
You can file a supplemental claim if you have new, relevant evidence to support a previously denied claim. A supplemental claim asks the Veterans Benefits Administration to reconsider your original claim after reviewing the new evidence.
If you choose this option, you can’t resubmit evidence that was previously submitted to the VA. The evidence must be both new and relevant to your claim.
Common examples of new and relevant evidence include:
- Private medical records
- Enlistment and separation examinations
- Reports from doctors
- X-rays and MRIs
- Laboratory test results
- Psychologist reports
You also can provide the VA with non-medical evidence. The VA allows you to submit lay statements, which are sworn statements from people who know how your condition affects your day-to-day life or your ability to work. These statements may be submitted using a Statement in Support of a Claim form.
Appealing to the BVA
Direct review docket
A Veterans Law Judge reviews the claim based on the same evidence and decides the case without a hearing.
This option might work best for you if you don’t need to submit new evidence and your case doesn’t present any unique questions or issues.
When you choose the evidence docket you have 90 days from your appeal date to submit new evidence for your claim. If you don’t submit new evidence, the BVA closes your record and proceeds to make a decision on the appeal based on what is already in the claims file.
On this docket, a VLJ reviews the new evidence, but there is no hearing.
This option might work best for you if you have acquired new evidence in support of your appeal and you wish for the board to consider it.
Selecting this option means you’ll have a BVA hearing, and you can submit evidence within 90 days following the scheduled hearing.
This option works best for veterans who wish to have a conversation with a VLJ and give testimony in support of their appeal. An attorney or an accredited representative may accompany a veteran to a hearing.
This option typically takes the longest because VLJs only conduct a certain number of hearings per week.
How many times can I appeal a VA disability rating?
There is no limit to how many times you can appeal a VA disability rating. And, since appeals can take a long time, it’s best to do it right the first time.
If a VA denies your initial claim, your higher-level review, and/or your supplemental claim, you still can appeal to the BVA, as long as it’s done within a year. You can’t request two Board appeals in a row, but you can submit a supplemental claim with new, relevant evidence if you receive a board decision that isn’t favorable.
“You can continue the same claim – even after a BVA denial – with a supplemental claim,” said Zack Evans, a VA disability lawyer. “The only thing is you need to include new and relevant evidence. So, as long as you’re advancing something new about this issue that you’ve been arguing, then the VA regional office has to start you over again with an opportunity to reach back to that older effective date.”
After a board decision, you also can appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims (CAVC). A notice of that appeal must be submitted within 120 days of the board decision.
If you decide to go to the CAVC on appeal, Woods and Woods can refer you to an attorney who will handle this specific type and level of appeal.
How long do VA appeals take?
Veterans can wait months or years for a disability appeal decision depending on which AMA lane they choose.
Veterans who are 75 and older or are experiencing homelessness or terminal illness are among those who may receive faster decisions by requesting priority processing.
How a VA disability appeal lawyer can help
In the years since the VA overhauled its appeals process, one thing is certain: it is still a complex and time-consuming effort. A VA disability appeal lawyer can help ensure you take the right path to appeal and maximize your chances of a successful outcome.
The people at Woods and Woods have the experience of appealing thousands of cases, which means they know how to expedite the process of filing as much as possible. If you hire Woods and Woods to help appeal your claim, we only get paid if we win. The benefits to you far outweigh the frustrations of navigating the process on your own. We represent veterans from all over the United States and overseas.
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“Woods and Woods’ experience will give you the best chance to get what you deserve.“
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The chances of a favorable appeal depend on your condition, your documentation, and the appeals path you choose. Hiring experienced legal representation to help you through the convoluted process can help you navigate the complicated process.
The VA goal for processing higher-level reviews and supplemental claims is 125 days. BVA appeals can take one or two years depending on which option you choose. That’s why filing an appeal soon after you receive a denial is important.