Generally, a Regional Office (RO) denial of benefits that is not appealed is a final decision. A final decision usually means the end of the road for that claim. However, a veteran may request that claim to be reopened if there is “new and material” evidence. If the claim is reopened, the veteran gets another bite at the apple. However, the veteran’s effective date will be the date the claim was reopened and not the date of the veteran’s original claim. There are two ways to get around this rule and get an earlier effective date. One way is to bring a Clear and Unmistakable Error claim (CUE claim). Our focus today is on the other way; reopening a claim with newly obtained service records. If the VA grants benefits after looking at the new service records together with the other evidence, the effective date will go back to the date of the original claim rather than the reopened claim. This is so powerful because it allows the veteran to receive a much higher award of retroactive benefits than they would have typically received with a reopened claim.
So, what counts as a service record that can be used to get an earlier effective date? A service record for these purposes is a military service department record that shows an event did in fact occur during the veteran’s military service. Interestingly enough, the service record does not have to actually be part of the veteran’s military personnel records or a part of the veteran’s medical records in order to qualify as a “service record.” The service record doesn’t even have to contain the veteran’s name. A common example of a service record is a unit record that refers to the event or experience that is the basis of the veteran’s claim. A service record must also be something that was not in the veteran’s claims file when their original claim was decided. Keep in mind, if the VA notifies the veteran that they need additional information in order to obtain the veteran’s service records, and the veteran fails to provide such information, the veteran who later obtains the service records will not be able to later use them to their advantage.
Again, newly obtained service records can have a big impact on a veteran’s disability claim. Not only can these service records be used to reopen a claim that has become final, they can also provide the veteran with an earlier effective date resulting in a larger award.