Veterans have the right to appeal rejected claims of disability benefits. Recent changes in the law have given veterans more options for how they may appeal, depending on when they submit their request. But as with most aspects of the VA system, the appeals process is bureaucratic. And despite the best attempts at reforming the system, there is still a significant backlog of appeals.
If you received an adverse decision on your veterans’ benefits claim, you deserve to understand how your appeal may be handled. At Disability Law Group, we handle all aspects of veterans’ benefits. We can get started on your case today.
A Brief History Of The Veterans’ Appeals System
Veterans’ appeals were at one time managed through what is known as the Legacy system. In August 2017, the Appeals Modernization Act (AMA) was signed into law. The AMA was designed to streamline the appeals process and provide three methods (discussed below) for appealing a denied claim. Although the law was not fully implemented until February 2019, veterans had the option of using a pilot appeals program beginning in June 2018.
Two appeal methods were made available as of June 2018. Then in October 2018, a third method (directly to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals) was opened as part of the Rapid Appeals Modernization Program, or RAMP. It’s important to understand that with the AMA now fully implemented, veterans have three review options for adverse decisions.
Also, veterans should know that the Legacy appeals process is only available for claims decided prior to February 19, 2019. Here, we will focus primarily on the new method under the AMA.
Appealing A Decision Under The AMA
If you are appealing an initial rejection of your veterans disability claim (for decisions made on or after February 19, 2019), you have three options:
Higher-Level Review. With this method, a more senior claims adjudicator will review your application by taking a new (de novo) look at your claim. You are not allowed to submit new supporting evidence. If the reviewer has a difference of opinion compared with your initial reviewer, or the initial reviewer clearly made an error, your decision could be reversed.
Supplemental Claim. This method allows you to submit or identify new supporting evidence for your claim.
Board of Veterans’ Appeals (BVA). This is a direct appeal to the BVA, which is part of the Department of Veterans Affairs located in Washington, D.C. You will have to submit a Notice of Disagreement and choose one of three dockets based on whether you have new evidence and whether you want a hearing.
How Bad Is The Veterans’ Appeals Backlog?
The general trend is that the backlog in veterans’ benefits claims is steadily increasing over time. That applies to the appeals aspect of the claims as well. For example, according to data provided by the VA, there were 35,952 appeals pending at the BVA for the month of January 2020. That accounts for all three dockets mentioned above. A year later, for the month of January 2021, the number of appeals across all three BVA dockets was 68,740.
Notably, the hearings docket seems to bear the bulk of pending BVA appeals. This makes sense because the hearings docket allows a veteran to not only present evidence but to be heard by a Veterans Law Judge. Naturally, this will take more time. But the number of appeals on this docket has seen a huge increase, from 18,745 for the month of January 2020 to 40,783 a year later.
Why Is There So Much Of A Backlog?
The easy explanation for the appeals backlog is that the VA is a massive bureaucracy, and it simply takes considerable time to work through so many denied claims. The VA itself acknowledges that appeals can take years in some cases, which contributes to the backlog as more veterans seek to overturn their initial decisions.
But the problem goes deeper. The VA claims it doesn’t have enough funding or staff to handle appeals, which means potentially longer wait times for applicants. Additionally, there are reports that some staff has been diverted from appeals to other functions at the VA. While the AMA has broadened the appeals options available to veterans, reducing the backlog and streamlining the process remains a challenge.
Count On Disability Law Group To Help With Your Veterans Benefits
No matter the type of docket, the backlog is increasing and will likely continue to do so. It’s one reason to have an experienced attorney at the time you initially apply for benefits. But if you’ve already received an adverse decision, a lawyer can still help. Reach out to Disability Law Group today to learn more about your options.