After a veteran has filed for veterans disability benefits, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) will send you a notice in writing that the application for benefits has been reviewed by the VA and the application has been either accepted or denied.
If the request has been denied, or if the veteran has been giving a lower disability rating than the veteran feels he or she is entitled to due to a service-connected disability, the decision can be appealed. (For more information, see our article on veterans disability ratings.)
The first step in appealing a decision of the VA is to file a Notice of Disagreement, in writing, with the agency that made the decision (most likely the veteran's local VA office.) This Notice of Disagreement must be postmarked within one year from the date the decision was mailed to the veteran -- not the date of the veteran's receipt of the VA's decision.
The Notice of Disagreement can identify the specific aspects of the decision that the veteran wishes to appeal, in which case only those issues will be reconsidered -- or it can simply say that the veteran disagrees with all of the VA's decisions. The notice may be submitted by the claimant (the veteran) or by his designated representative (for example, a legal guardian, attorney, agent, or organization), but only one person at a time may file a Notice of Disagreement for a veteran's claim.
At this time, the veteran should also notify the agency if he would like his appeal to be reviewed by a Decision Review Officer (DRO) or by a hearing officer at the Board of Veterans Appeals (BVA). The veteran may wish to choose to request review by a DRO because it can be quicker and the DRO is able to conduct a hearing as part of the review process. A DRO review must be specifically requested. (Learn more about dealing with a DRO.)
If the veteran fails to file a Notice of Disagreement within one year of the decision being mailed, the decision of the original agency will be considered final, and review of the decision will not be permitted.
Once the Notice of Disagreement has been filed with the agency that made the original decision, either a hearing officer from the BVA or a DRO within that agency will review the decision.
After a DRO review, the agency can approve or deny the requested benefit. If the DRO review does not approve benefits, the agency will issue a Statement of the Case. (Or, if the veteran requests a BVA appeal, the BVA will issue a Statement of the Case.)
The SOC will include a summary of the evidence in the case relating to the issue raised in the Notice of Disagreement, a citation of pertinent laws and regulations and their application to the issue at hand, the original decision on each issue, and a summary of the reasons for the decision.
If the claimant still wishes to appeal the DRO decision, he has 60 days from the date the Statement of the Case was mailed to file a formal appeal, using VA Form 9, with the Board of Veterans Appeals (although more time may be allowed if good cause is shown). The appeal must identify the specific allegation of error of fact or law in the case as well as the benefits sought. Or, if the veteran requested a BVA appeal from the beginning, the hearing will be scheduled.
After a hearing with a Board member, the Board member will issue a decision, either granting the benefits requested, denying the benefits, or remanding the case back down to the local VA office in order to gain more information that would help resolve the case.
If the Board member denies the appeal, the veteran may either accept the decision, reopen a new request with the local VA office, appeal the decision back to the Board if there is a clear and unmistakable error in the Board's decision, ask the Board in writing to vacate or reconsider its decision, or file an appeal with the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims. To file an appeal with the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, the veteran must file a Notice of Appeal to the Court within 120 days of the Board's decision.
If the veteran has applied for more than one claim for benefits, and one benefit application has been approved and the other denied, the veteran may file a Notice of Disagreement on the denied claim, provided he does so within 60 days of the date the denied notice was mailed. A Statement of the Case will be issued by the agency that made the original denial, and the veteran then has 30 days from the date of the Statement's issuance to appeal that decision, should appeal be desired.
For legal help filing an appeal or going to a hearing, you can hire a representative who works for a veterans' service organization or a disability attorney. An attorney can collect legal fees out of any past-due disability benefits you receive, if you win your claim. If you hire an attorney, the VA needs to see a copy of the fee agreement.