So many times it happens. After filing an initial claim, a veteran receives notification, a VCAA Notice, from the VA that, in essence, states that they are working on his/her claim, and are requesting additional evidence. Typically, there will be verbiage that includes “We strongly encourage you to send any information or evidence as soon as you can. If we do not hear from you, we may make a decision on your claim after 30 days. “ At this point, panic sets in for the veteran. He/she is looking at the date of the letter, and calculating that 30 days is now winding down, depending on when they receive the notice, and time is of the essence in submitting the requested evidence. In many cases, no specific evidence is requested, but often times the VA specifies exactly what evidence it is they require to make their decision.
As a claims advocate, I can’t tell you how many veterans I speak with that insist the 30-day deadline is a hard deadline, and the specific evidence the VA is requesting absolutely MUST be submitted before the 30 days is complete. This is not always the case, however. What every veteran who files a claim needs to know is this: the 30-day deadline is what we call a “soft” deadline. The term “we may make a decision on your claim after 30 days” is purposely misleading. The word “may”, in itself, used in this particular statement means the VA COULD make a decision, but it doesn’t mean they will if the requested evidence is not submitted in 30 days. This often provokes the veteran, if he/she is going it alone, to hurry up, as it were, which often leads to mistakes, i.e., the wrong information is submitted, or it is incomplete. This does not bode well for the veteran in the long run as it relates to the final decision of the VA, because they will find any little thing to kick it back or deny benefits.
The long and short of it is that a veteran and/or their advocate can submit evidence up until the time the VA finally does render a decision, and he/she has up to one year from the date of the VCAA letter to submit information and evidence necessary to support their claim. The VA is their own worst enemy when it comes to the backlog that currently exists. The VCAA Notice shouldn’t be a tool to scare a veteran, but if one really thinks about it, it is. That is why it so important to seek legal advice in such matters.