One important thing to remember about VA compensation claims is that a final denial is not really “final,” and a claim that was originally denied by the VA can be reopened if certain conditions are met. A claim becomes “final” for VA purposes when the appeal period has ended or the claim has been denied at the highest level of appeal (the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims). But even though a veteran’s claim may have become final, he or she is still able to reopen the claim by submitting new and material evidence. A veteran is able to reopen a previously denied claim as many times as he or she wants, and there is no time limit within which a reopened claim must be filed. Note that reopened claims are different from claims for a rating increase. The term “reopened claim” typically refers to an initial claim in which a veteran is trying to be awarded service connection for a disability. Once service connection is awarded, the veteran may have to go back to the VA for an increased rating if his or her disability gets worse. A claim for an increased rating does not require new and material evidence, only some evidence that the service connected disability has gotten worse.
What constitutes new and material evidence in order to reopen a claim? The VA defines new and material evidence in 38 C.F.R. 3.156(a): “New evidence means existing evidence not previously submitted to agency decision makers. Material evidence means existing evidence that, by itself or when considered with previous evidence of record, relates to an unestablished fact necessary to substantiate the claim. New and material evidence can be neither cumulative nor redundant of the evidence of record at the time of the last prior final denial of the claim sought to be reopened, and must raise a reasonable possibility of substantiating the claim.” Generally, the new and material evidence must relate to one of the reasons the previous claim was denied and be strong enough that it must be considered in order to fairly decide the claim. If the VA determines that the evidence submitted is new and material, the reopened claim will be adjudicated without giving any weight to the fact that the claim was previously denied. The VA must consider both the old and the new evidence, and make a new decision based on all the evidence that is now part of the record.
Note that generally if a reopened claim is granted, the effective date is the date the VA received the reopened claim, not the date that the originally denied claim was received by the VA.