The VA appeal process can be a very long one and as a result, extremely frustrating. As such, it can be helpful to know how the process works and what is needed at each step to achieve the best possible outcome. The entire process starts with an initial claim. Once that claim has been reviewed by the Regional Office, a Rating Decision will be issued. The Rating Decision explains the reasoning for why they have granted or denied your claim. If you disagree with any aspect of their decision, you have the right to file an appeal. An appeal for a Rating Decision must be submitted using a VA Form 21-0958, Notice of Disagreement, and within one year from the issue date.
When to File
There are a couple different circumstances under which a Notice of Disagreement ought to be filed. The most common one is when the VA has denied your claim for service-connection. However, there are other grounds for an appeal. In the event you have been granted service connection, it is important to review whether you have received a proper rating and effective date. Both instances are just as crucial to appeal as an outright denial to prevent you from missing out on benefits you are entitled to. For each condition that you wish to appeal, you can clarify with the VA on which issue you are in disagreement with so that they review accordingly. When filing a Notice of Disagreement, you also need to select the Traditional Process or Decision Review Officer (DRO) Process. Our firm typically will request the DRO process but you can find a comparison and explanation of each here.
Rating Decision or a Statement of the Case
Once an appeal has been filed and reviewed under the selected process, the VA will either issue a new Rating Decision or a Statement of the Case. Ideally, you will receive a new Rating Decision granting part or all of your appeal. But if the VA decides to uphold their original decision, they will issue a Statement of the Case (SOC). The SOC explains why they are upholding their original decision after reviewing your appeal. It is to provide you with an understanding so that if you wish to continue your appeal to the Board of Veterans Appeals, you are prepared to do so. In the event an SOC is issued and you decide to continue your appeal, a VA Form 9 must be filed within 60 days.
The Board of Veterans Appeals
The VA Form 9 begins your substantive appeal to the BVA. Upon transfer of your appeal from the Regional Office to the BVA, you should receive a confirmation notice that the BVA now has your file. Due to the timeframes, it may still be a while before a BVA decision is issued but your case is moving in the right direction. After the BVA has reviewed your case, they will issue a grant, remand or denial. Typically, a grant and remand result in returning your case to the Regional Office to implement their decision. If you receive a denial from the BVA, you can still appeal their decision but it must be submitted within 120 days to request the CAVC to review your case.
As you can see, there are many deadlines involved in the appeal process. While it is imperative that these are met as they come up, there are other options to consider if an appeal deadline is missed. If you wish to continue a claim that you did not appeal, it may be grounds to reopen your claim. In order for your previously denied claim to be reopened, however, you will have to supply new and material evidence to be considered. With the time sensitive nature of decisions, if you have representation, you should always contact them upon receipt of any decision to ensure they are aware and can respond accordingly on your behalf. On the other hand, if you decide to seek out representation throughout your claim, please provide copies of your most recent decisions, especially those issued in the past year. This will allow them to determine a plan of action, whether or not an appeal has been filed, to ensure your case is handled in the best possible way.