Veterans service-connected disability benefits are often denied or awarded at the incorrect rating or date of disability. If you find yourself in this position, you have the right to an appeal and you increase your chances of winning if you are represented by an attorney.
You can find a list of VA accredited attorneys here. An accredited attorney has been screened by the VA for character and fitness, has been trained to represent disabled veterans, and is required to engage in additional training to maintain accreditation every two years. Because appeals can take 3 ½ to 4 ½ years to process, attorneys fees are based upon benefits they obtain on your behalf and paid out of your past due benefits.
There are several steps to the appeal process. The initial claim is filed with the VA Regional Office that is closest to your residence. If your claim is denied, or you disagree with the rating assigned or date of disability, you may contest that decision by filing a Notice of Disagreement (NOD) within one year of the rating decision. Once you have filed the NOD, you can elect to have your claim reviewed by a senior level examiner or Decision Review Officer (DRO) at the Regional Office, or you can elect the Traditional Review Process (TRP).
A DRO appeal has an extra step where you can submit New Material Evidence or present evidence of a Clear and Unmistakable Error where either the facts/evidence were wrong or the law was incorrectly applied. While this is an extra step, it could result in benefits being granted and paid much sooner. If you are denied here or if you chose the TRP, the RO will issue a Statement of the Case. You must file an appeal (VA Form 9) within 60 days with the Board of Veterans Appeals, BVA, which is located in Washington, DC. At this level in the appeal process there is a hearing. The hearing can take place at the BVA offices in Washington, DC, at a “travel” board hearing in the regional office, or live video-conferencing from the regional offices with the main office in DC. If the claim is still denied the next level of appeal must be filed within 120 days to the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims (CAVC). No new evidence will be considered at this level. The next appeal must be filed within 60 days to the goes to the Federal Circuit Court and then the United States Supreme Court, if permission is granted.
At Stark & Stark, we are dedicated to assisting disabled veterans through this process and have VA accredited attorneys available for free consultations in our Lawrenceville and Marlton offices. We look forward to working with you.