If you've received a VA rating decision letter notifying you that the VA denied your claim, don't be discouraged. You can appeal the VA decision within one year from the date the decision letter was sent to you.
It's pretty common for initial VA disability claims to be denied, but by reviewing your decision letter carefully, you can help increase your chances on appeal. You can find your VA decision letter online by creating an account (if you don't already have one) and signing into VA.gov.
You can begin your appeal by submitting a Decision Review Request to the VA office that sent you the notice of denial. The specific Decision Review Request form you'll need to submit depends on which method you'd like to have the VA review your appeal.
If you're still appealing a disability decision that was dated before February 19, 2019, you'll need to go through what the VA calls the "legacy" appeals process. You have a legacy claim if you filed a VA Notice of Disagreement within one year of the date on your decision letter.
The legacy appeals process works slightly differently from the current appeals process. Some features unique to legacy appeals include the following:
You may be able to switch over to the new appeals process depending on whether you receive your SOC before or after February 19, 2019. For more information, see the VA's website on managing legacy appeals.
The VA allows you to choose the type of appeal you'd prefer: higher-level review, supplemental claims, or board appeals. You're also allowed to change your mind (in certain circumstances) and switch between appeal options. The type of appeal that's best for you generally depends on whether you have new and material evidence that you'd like to submit, as well as your tolerance for a lengthy wait.
In a higher-level review, an experienced senior-level VA benefits officer will take a fresh look at your denial letter and make a new decision.
On the Decision Review Request: Higher-Level Review form, you can ask to have an informal conference over the phone with the reviewer. Requesting a conference will increase how long it takes for you to get a decision, so if time is a concern, you can submit a written statement with your application instead.
If you have new evidence that you didn't submit to the VA before, you may want to file a supplemental claim. When you file a supplemental claim, a reviewer will determine whether your original decision should be changed based on the new evidence submitted. The VA will even help you gather new evidence, including (with your permission) from private medical providers.
Board appeals are the most time-consuming type of appeal, taking as much as two years before the BVA issues a decision. If you choose a board appeal, your Decision Review Request form will ask you to choose one of three options:
Direct review is the fastest method for a board appeal, taking on average one year for the board to complete. Submitting new evidence increases the time the board will take to review your appeal, averaging 550 days (1.5 years), and if you request a hearing you can expect your appeal process to take on average 730 days (2 years).
The Decision Review Request forms themselves are pretty straightforward, and you don't need to add much. The purpose of the forms is to preserve your right to appeal all of the errors in the VA's decision denying you benefits. If you get too specific, you'll limit your right to appeal issues that you haven't mentioned or might not even be aware of.
Keep your appeal statement simple by stating that you disagree with all of the decisions in the VA denial letter and ratings decision and that you wish to appeal those decisions. That way you can cover all your bases, and you won't have to produce "new and material evidence" or show that the VA made a "clear and unmistakable error" to win your appeal.
You can also print and mail the forms you need for your appeal to the following address:
Department of Veterans Affairs
Claims Intake Center
PO Box 4444
Or, you can file your appeal in person or over the phone with your local VA office. If you need help with your appeal, you can get help with your decision review from a Veterans Service Organization (VSO) representative. You may also wish to hire an attorney who specializes in helping veterans get disability benefits, especially if you're requesting a hearing with a judge.
After you file your appeal, the waiting game begins. You don't need to do anything unless the VA sends you a letter asking for more information. If your appeal is successful, the VA will notify you by mail and start paying you benefits based on the effective date of your initial application.
If your appeal wasn't successful and your decision was made after a high-level review or supplemental claims request, you can still request a board appeal. If you don't agree with the board decision, you can file a written Notice of Appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims.
Updated July 3, 2023