If you served in the United States military, then you may be eligible for certain benefits. For those veterans with service-connected disabilities, you may qualify for veterans disability benefits through the U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA). If your disability claim is approved, your monthly compensation will be based on your disability rating.
If you disagree with your rating decision or if your disability claim was denied, you can file an appeal with the VA. Appealing a VA denial or rating decision can take a fair amount of time. After gathering additional evidence and putting together an argument, the average wait time for the VA to issue a decision on an appeal to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals is 12 to 18 months.
At Bross & Frankel, we are fierce advocates for military veterans. We work with clients to help them appeal VA denials and unfavorable rating decisions. Reach out to our law offices to schedule a free claim review with a New Jersey veterans’ disability appeals lawyer.
How Long Does a VA Appeal Take?
Getting VA disability benefits starts with filing a claim with the VA, supported by relevant evidence of a service-connected disability. The VA will then process the claim by gathering evidence of the veterans’ military service and examining the medical records and other evidence submitted in support of the claim.
According to the VA, it takes approximately 103.3 days – or about 3 and a half months – to get a decision on the initial application for benefits. The VA will issue a Rating Decision that will either allow or reject the claim. If it is approved, the VA will then issue a disability rating, which is expressed as a percentage between 0 and 100%.
If a veteran disagrees with the Rating Decision – which could be because the claim was denied or the disability rating is too low – they may file an appeal. Under the Appeals Modernization Act (AMA) pass in 2019, there are 3 appeal options:
- File a supplemental claim, where you submit additional evidence to support your initial claim. If the added evidence supports your claim for disability benefits, then it will likely be granted.
- Request a higher-level review from a more senior reviewer. This is an option for claimants who do not have additional evidence to submit, but who believe that the VA made an error in their rating decision. You may also request an optional one-time conference with a senior reviewer to point out errors, but doing so may lengthen the time that it takes to get a decision.
- File a Board Appeal through the Department of Veterans Affairs, which may include a direct review, evidence submission, or a hearing with a Veterans Law Judge. A board appeal often takes the most time because there is just one Board of Veterans’ Appeals.
If you decide to appeal under any of these options, you will need to file the appeal or Notice of Disagreement with your local VA regional office within a year of the date of the initial decision. It is a good idea to talk to a veterans disability benefits attorney before you make a decision on what type of appeal to file, and when to file it.
One important consideration, when filing a Supplemental Claim any new and relevant evidence must be submitted along with the appeal. It cannot be submitted after the appeal has been filed in most cases. Because of this, the one year provided to appeal may be used to gather and develop evidence prior to submitting the appeal. This is also true if filing an appeal to the Board of Veterans appeals under the “evidence” lane. All new evidence must be provided within 90 days of submitting that appeal.
For supplemental claims and higher-level reviews, it typically takes 12 to 18 months to get a decision from the VA. However, if you file a board appeal and seek a hearing with a Veterans’ law judge, it could take as long as 5 to 7 years to get a decision.
Why Does a VA Appeal Take So Long?
The VA handles disability claims in sequential order. This means that they process claims in the order that they are received, with older claims reviewed before newer applications for disability compensation. While this is a fair system, it can mean that it takes a long time to get a decision on an appeal. This is particularly true because the VA has a substantial backlog of cases.
There is also a “legacy” appeals track for those decisions issued before February 19, 2019, when a legal change sought to streamline the appeals process. Legacy claims are prioritized in order to eliminate the VA backlog. This means that appeals of newer decisions can often take more time.
The other reality is that it takes time to properly prepare an appeal for review. The VA does not allow veterans to be represented by legal counsel when initially applying for benefits. As a result, many veterans’ disability claims may be underdeveloped. On appeal, an attorney will have to work to gather evidence to prove the claim, such as:
- Medical records from VA Medical Centers, private treatment, and in-service medical records
- A military personnel file
- A private medical examination to prove service-connection
- Nexus Letters, or opinions from doctors or other experts to establish important facts supporting the claim.
In addition, your lawyer may research and write a legal memorandum to support your claim. This is often necessary when there are more complicated legal issues at play. For example, if you have a combined disability rating from multiple service-connected medical or mental health conditions, it is often necessary to submit a legal argument to get the appropriate disability rating.
An appeal that is filed immediately after the initial decision is issued may not contain sufficient support to be successful. It may not contain any additional information or even correct the errors that may have led to the initial denial. It can take months to put together the appropriate documentation and to more fully support a claim for disability benefits. As noted above, this is especially important since most appeals do not allow the submission of evidence once the appeal has been filed.
This level of documentation also takes more time for the VA to review. If you simply resubmit what you already sent to the VA, then it likely won’t take its Decision Review Officer (DRO) much time to issue a decision. These types of appeals are rarely successful. A well-developed appeal will take more time to review, whether you are filing a supplemental claim, a request for a higher level review, or a Board Appeal.
VA claims and appeals are handled in the order that they are received. Having a New Jersey VA appeals lawyer will not necessarily speed up or slow down the appeals process for you. However, hiring experienced legal representation can increase the likelihood of a successful appeal. Your attorney will understand the law and how it applies to cases like yours, and put their knowledge and experience to work to craft a strong appeal for you.
Contact Bross & Frankel to Talk to a VA Appeals Lawyer
The VA appeals process can be a challenging process. After dealing with the disappointment of a denial or an unfavorable rating decision, many veterans are frustrated and overwhelmed. To top it off, it can take a year or longer to get a decision from the VA on an appeal.
At Bross & Frankel, we understand how difficult it can be to wait for an initial rating decision from the VA and then to wait for a decision on your appeal. Our goal is to make the process as straightforward as possible for our clients – and to get them the best possible outcome on their claim for veterans benefits. If you would like to learn more about our services or to talk with a New Jersey veterans disability attorney, call our law firm at (866) 311-3796 or fill out our online contact form.
Will I Get Retroactive Pay for the Time that It Takes the VA to Decide My Appeal?
Yes. If you ultimately receive a favorable decision on your appeal, then the VA will award back pay to the effective date of your claim. Your effective date is either the date that you filed a claim or the date of entitlement (the date that your service-connected injury arose).
If your initial claim was denied, the back pay award will be for the full amount of benefits that you are entitled to, back to your effective date. If the appeal increases your disability rating, then the back pay award will be for the difference in benefits between the initial rating and the new rating.
If you have questions about back pay award or filing a Notice of Disagreement, we can help. Contact Bross & Frankel to talk to a New Jersey VA appeals lawyer about your case.
How Do I Know the Status of My VA Appeal?
If you have requested a decision review or appeal, then you can check the status using the VA’s website – just as you may have checked the status of your initial application for veterans benefits. To do so, you will either need to sign in or create an account using Login.gov, ID.me, DS Logon, or My HealtheVet account.
This tool will show you where your decision review or appeal is in the VA review process. You can also see any additional evidence that the VA has requested from you and download decision letters. If you want to file an appeal of a decision on your entitlement to VA disability benefits, call Bross & Frankel to schedule a free claim review with a New Jersey veterans’ disability benefits attorney.