Matthew: Hello, and welcome to another edition of the Hill and Ponton Veterans video blog. I’m Matthew Hill.
Carol: I’m Carol Ponton.
Matthew: Today we want to talk to you about appealing cases at the regional office through a notice of disagreement. Since the beginning of the VA – or the modern VA, at least – if you had a rating decision you disagreed with, you filed a notice of disagreement. What was essential on the notice of disagreement is you say, “I disagree with this decision, and I wish to appeal.”
Well, as of 2015, the VA is going to make a standard form. As of right now, you can file a notice of disagreement on anything you want: on a paper, on a napkin, in the middle of another claim. The VA has to accept whatever notice of disagreement that is in there. Now, the VA has said that the problem with this is that it has had trouble…
Carol: Finding it. They get lost.
Matthew: So they say, “We don’t want to lose the veteran’s notice of disagreement.” Now they’re making a standard form that the veteran has to use. On one hand, this is good, in that your form will be seen and hopefully processed faster. On the other hand, I have some grave reservations with this.
Carol: Before we get into that, the one thing that is good about this is that so many veterans don’t know how to appeal. They won’t say the two magic words. If you don’t say the two magic words, you lose. If you say, “I want you to reconsider what you did,” that’s not an appeal. So many veterans have lost their appeal because they didn’t know. Now they just file this form, and they’ve appealed.
Matthew: That is a definite benefit. One of the things that concerns me is, first of all, you have to use the form. To get access to the form, not every veteran has a service officer, not every veteran has a computer where they want you to file it online. Before you were able just to mail in a letter saying, “I disagree with this and here are my reasons.” They are not accepting that anymore.
Now what they give you is this form. I will attach this to the notes of the video blog.
Carol: The form number is 21-0958.
Matthew: This form makes you list every single disability that you want to disagree with. If you have five claims, you’ve got to list all five. Then you have to list the areas of disagreement. Is it something where you weren’t granted service connection? You check that. Is it the effective date?
Carol: Right, the date they started paying you.
Matthew: Should that be, or is it the evaluation of the disability? You have to do that for each one.
Carol: One of the problems is the veterans, a lot of times, may have a number of claims. They are so incised about one particular claim that they write that and forget these other claims are important too. They all add up to give you the benefits you deserve.
Matthew: That’s a problem we have as advocates, is that a lot of times when we speak to veterans we get the rating decision. We ask the veteran about what’s going on or if they have the evidence that was used against them – the C&P exam, medical records – and they don’t have that.
The theory with the VA is a veteran and his advocate are going to be able to access all that information immediately over the Internet. That’s the theory. The reality for us still is to get the veteran’s C-file, which contains all of that, is taking anywhere from two to eight months. That is frightening, that they still have that disparity between the two.
What really scares me about this is that once you’ve put your issue down, once you’ve decided, checked if it’s a disability evaluation, effective date, then you have to list a percentage sought. If you have a 20% back problem and you just put 40, well, what if you should have 100% for it?
Carol: How do you know what you’re entitled to? Are you familiar with the rating? They’re making you have knowledge that many veterans don’t have.
Matthew: They haven’t said that they’re going to hold the veterans to this.
Carol: I am really worried that’s what’s going to happen.
Matthew: That’s something that I’m fearful of. We believe in over-appealing, because you can always take something off appeal, but you can’t add it on when it’s too late. We would say if you think that anything should be appealed, you put it on the appeal. Then you put all the issues of that – the effective date, the rating, or just the service connection – and then for the percentage you either put nothing or you put 100%.
Matthew: The VA set themselves up on this. You can always go back, as we do. When we get the C-file, we always go back and say, “Look, this rating is legitimate. It’s not going to go higher. We need to withdraw this,” or, “This effective date is what it should be,” or, “There is no way you can get service connection for this.” But at least we are making the decision.
Carol: After looking at all of the evidence, talking to you about your condition, looking at the medical reports, looking at the entire file.
Matthew: It’s an informed decision.
Carol: It is. The thing is, an early effective date is something that I’m afraid many veterans won’t realize they should be putting down there, because I don’t note them doing it now. If you don’t do that, think of all the past benefits that you’re going to be missing. That’s the problem: getting the word out to the veterans to understand what they’re doing when they fill out this form.
Matthew: Again, this is called the standard notice of disagreement, or as VA itself is calling, “SNOD.” This is going to be something you need in your claim, unfortunately, as of 2015. Just please understand, when you fill this out they’re going to try and bind you to everything, every box you check here.
Carol: My veterans, especially the men, tend to underrate how bad things are. If you have a spouse, a girlfriend, a special friend, or a mother, please ask them how bad they think this problem is that you have. They are likely to tell you it’s much worse than you think it is. That way you would know what to put down on the form.
Matthew: Thank you again for listening to this edition of the Hill and Ponton video blog. We look forward to seeing you next time.