by Sarah Schauerte
Maybe this title should be shocking, but I bet it isn’t – by the time a claim for disability benefits makes it way through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, an infant born the same day the claim was submitted might be in kindergarten.
According to a chart (fairly) recently uploaded to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals (BVA) webpage, it can take almost six years from the time a veteran first files his claim to when the BVA finally resolves it. More, depending on the regional office initially handling the claim.
Let’s walk through the process. First, a veteran files a claim, and it is routed to the regional office closest to him based on his address. Depending on where the veteran lives, it can take somewhere from one to two years for that regional office to render a decision. (For instance, a regional office in Montana will move a lot faster than a regional office in California due to the disparity in population density).
More likely than not, the veteran will disagree with elements of that decision. As such, he will file a Notice of Disagreement (which he has a year to do). Then, the VA will take a second look at his claim and either: 1) grant it and issue a rating decision; or 2) issue a Statement of the Case explaining why they were right the first time. According to the BVA’s chart, this takes an average of 480 days.
If the veteran receives a Statement of the Case, he must file a Form 9 within 60 days to appeal to the BVA. This preserves the effective date of his claim. Still, the claim stays at the regional office so long as the veteran keeps sending in evidence, so the regional office might issue two or three more Supplemental Statements of the Case (or a rating decision). On average, it takes 644 days for that to be all over.
Then it gets kicked up to the BVA. It takes 288 days to certify a claim before the Board of Veterans Appeals. Once that happens, it takes an average of 248 days for the BVA to issue a final decision. In 2016, the BVA received and docketed 86,836 appeals.
So. . . what do these numbers tell us? First, the VA is incredibly slow. They’re backlogged, but they’re slow, too. It shouldn’t take a year for a veteran to receive a boilerplate letter.
Second, it means veterans should do everything they can to get their appeals resolved at the regional office level. This timeline only applies if a claim goes all the way to the BVA, which can happen due to VA error. And if that’s the case, the poor veteran has to appeal every step of the way and preserve his rights, or he doesn’t get the initial filing effective date. Then, when he finally gets his money, there is no interest or penalty assigned.
There are, however, steps the veteran can take to reduce the chance of VA error, and to make sure he presents the most effective case possible. These include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Make sure you send every piece of important correspondence via priority mail. In other words, be sure it’s received (i.e., get delivery confirmation).
- Respond to all document requests, namely requests for information about medical providers who will provide documents. Make sure the medical provider actually sends it in, because if they don’t, you’ll get a statement of the case that doesn’t include evidence you thought would render a favorable decision.
- Send in private medical provider information yourself, and draw attention to documents you think are pertinent. Make it hard for the VA to not see evidence that matters.
- Send in all relevant evidence, generally. Don’t forget anything.
- Don’t send in evidence that clearly isn’t relevant. You don’t want the regional office to have to go diving in your file to find the evidence that supports your claim.
- When you write letters to the VA, keep it simple. If something is important, bold it so they have to read it.
- If you have any gaps in your evidence, use lay witness affidavits. That can make a difference.
In other words, don’t let your evidence be ignored! Make sure the VA not only has everything it needs to grant your claim, but that it can’t miss it. If you don’t, your claim might be old enough to ride the school bus by the time you get your money. And that isn’t right. You’ve earned it.
*Did you find this article informative? If so, sign up for Sarah Schauerte’s legal blog on veteran’s issues at: http://www.legalmeetspractical.com. Also, please keep in mind that this article is informational in nature and is in no way legal advice about your specific claim or applicable deadlines.