You applied for VA benefits and your claim was denied (or a decision unchanged and continued) as evidenced by the Rating Decision you received from the Regional Office of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). This can be very frustrating after all the time spent on gathering documents, and providing everything but the kitchen sink to support your well-deserved claim. What now? Is this the end? Do you have any recourse? The answer is it is up to you.
When the RD is received there will be a section called “references” that provides some basic direction on how to appeal the decision. If you don’t have an advocate who can complete and submit the paperwork on your behalf, don’t be intimidated by all the hoopla in the RD letter. It all comes down to submitting a Notice of Disagreement or NOD” to the VA. The question then becomes…where do you start?
The purpose of the NOD is for you to tell the VA that you disagree with their Rating Decision for disability or other compensation. At one time the VA had no standardized form for a veteran to file a NOD so most vets used the general VA Form 21-4138 (Statement in Support of Claim) or simply filed a letter disagreeing with the decision. Effective February 2013, the VA implemented VA Form 21-0958 (Notice of Disagreement) that is now used for filing a NOD. This is a fillable form that brings uniformity to the process; obviously simplifying the administrative burden for the ROs and “possibly” a more expeditious response.
In order for the NOD to be accepted, it must contain specific wording; regardless of the format used. Basically, there are two specific things that need to be in the NOD:
- you must let the VA know of your dissatisfaction/disagreement with the outcome, and
- you need to let them know of your desire to contest/appeal their decision.
When completing the Form 21-0958, it is crucial that not only do you state your disagreement with the decision, but that the date of the decision and a list of the specific issues being appealed. Also, you need to keep in mind that the VA mandates the NOD be filed within a specific time frame. In general, you have 365 days from the date the VA mailed the notification of the decision. In most cases, if the NOD is not timely filed you cannot appeal a decision after the one-year period has ended.
Once the VA receives your NOD, you “should” receive a letter of acknowledgment (don’t expect this to happen fast!). This letter will either grant your claim or provide you with a Statement of the Case (SOC). The SOC will provide you with the decision(s), and the evidence used to come up with the decision(s). The rest of the information is mostly technical jargon that is not necessary for you to worry about. The main thing is to appeal or not to appeal. This is done by either appealing to the Board of Veterans Affairs (BVA) or continue your claim with the Regional Office by submitting additional evidence that will be reviewed by a Decision Review Officer or a DRO. The latter of the two options is more often successful and generally much faster than appealing to the BVA. If you remain unhappy with the outcome, you can always appeal to the BVA later.
To sum things up…every case is different; thus a cookie-cutter approach should not be applied to your claim. Be sure that all supporting documentation is well organized and a clear explanation of its significance clearly outlined in the NOD.
Don’t be trapped by the VA who may convince you to file a “Request for VA Reconsideration” as this claims step does not exist. Don’t be inhibited by the VA and their tactics. And, don’t flush money down the toilet that you have earned and truly deserve.