Once you receive your rating decision from the VA, you have an important decision to make. Are you happy with the decision, or do you disagree? If you disagree with any aspect of the decision, be it the issue of service connection, rating, or effective date, you will need to file a Notice of Disagreement (NOD). Today we are going to discuss the NOD and the document that you may receive in response, the Statement of the Case (SOC).
When a claim for benefits is denied, a veteran has one year from the date of the letter notifying him or her of the denial decision to send to the VA a Notice of Disagreement. In the past, there was no set wording or form that the NOD had to follow. All that was important was that the NOD needed to be clear about the fact that the veteran disagreed with the decision and wanted to appeal. The problem with this was that it left a lot up to interpretation, and many times this could be harmful for a veteran’s case. For instance, if a veteran sent a letter to the VA which was no more than a complaint about a decision, it is possible that the VA would not consider that letter an NOD, and the time limit for filing an appeal could pass and the decision would become final.
However, the VA now requires an NOD to be filed on a specific form – the VA Form 958. If you send an NOD to the VA in a different format, they will send you a VA Form 958 to complete instead. It is important to be as clear as possible on the VA Form 958 as to which issues with which you disagree. If the VA does not understand what exactly you are appealing, they may ask you to clarify your NOD in order for your appeal to move forward. Once the NOD is received by the VA, it will send a confirmation that the NOD has been received and that the appeal process has been initiated. If a veteran does not receive confirmation as to the receipt of the NOD by the VA, it is important to follow-up in order to avoid missing the one-year time limit.
After the VA receives an NOD from a veteran, there are a few things that may happen. If you elected the traditional appeal process, the same person who made the first decision will review your case again. If you elected the Decision Review Officer (DRO) process, your case will go to a higher level of review within the Regional Office. If you elected to have a hearing, a hearing will be scheduled. Once the hearing is held (or if the veteran chooses to cancel the hearing), the DRO will either grant your appeal, issue a Statement of the Case (SOC), or grant some issues and issue an SOC on other issues.
Much like the initial rating decision, the SOC is an explanation of the decision, including a cover letter that gives instructions about the appeal process. Also included in the SOC is a list of the issues being decided in the claim, a summary of evidence, the laws and VA regulations that relate to the claim, and the decision and reasoning behind each issue. The SOC may include helpful information in order for the veteran to prepare his or her appeal, but the most important thing to remember about the SOC is that the veteran has 60 days from the date of the SOC cover letter to send in VA Form 9, which is the substantive appeal. Failure to respond to the SOC within 60 days by filing VA Form 9 may result in the appeal being closed and the decision becoming final.