If you are seeking a Higher Level Rating from the VA, you now have a year to appeal from receiving your VA decision.
Just this year, on February 19, it was announced that the VA was switching to the new veteran’s appeals law called the Appeals Modernization Act (or, AMA). This marked the end of the VA’s RAMP program, under which it could take as long as three to seven years to have your appeal decided.
With the newly reformed system, some appeals were being processed and reviewed in only 36 days. For those who have disagreed with their original VA Claim determination, this new efficiency in the appeals process is very welcome.
Before this new law was signed by President Trump on August 23, 2017, backlogged appeals were numbered around 450,000. This was a 350% increase from 2001 when 100,000 appeals had been pending.
Under this new law, the AMA promises faster decisions, earlier resolutions, and a more efficient overall review process. It also promises to give veterans more decisions regarding their VA review process.
Reasons to seek a Higher Level Review
Under the Appeals Modernization Act, there has been an incredible success rate of veterans receiving more significant benefits. Not only that, the appeals process has been quickened so much as to no longer be as discouraging due to demonstrably long waiting periods.
This means that if you find any disagreement with your original VA Rating determination, there is ample reason to pursue a Higher Level Review to increase your benefits.
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How do I start pursuing my Higher Level Review?
To begin the appeals process, a veteran must fill out and turn in the Decision Review Request: Higher Level Review form (VA Form 20-0996). This can be submitted via mail, Fax, or by turning it indirectly at the nearest VA facility.
Once your form is submitted, you have several options. You can wait for the VA to request more information or schedule exams for you. Or, you can request a conference call with your reviewer to speak with them about any errors you identified on your original claim and reasons why you think your decision should be rendered differently.
Under the new system, you may also electronically track the status of your claim.
How does the appeals process work?
Any appeal for Higher Level Review (or HLR) from a veteran will be assigned a Decision Review Officer. This is a senior adjudicator who will take a fresh look at the previous VA decision. These officers are more experienced than those who first reviewed the claim and are generally based in a different location. This initial review will only consider the evidence presented initially in the claim. This is called a de novo review.
The officer then may overturn the decision if they disagree with the original decision. They may also find errors made in the assessment. If an error is encountered, they can request a correction.
The VA officially asks for 125 days (roughly 4 months) to complete the appeals process. However, under the AMA, it has been found that, in many cases, the process has gone much faster.
What do I do after submitting my appeal?
The VA typically will not require anything more of you while you are awaiting the decision on your HLR.
What if I disagree with the Higher Level Review decision?
The HLR has finished, and you’ve received your new decision, but you see it isn’t what you had hoped for. Are there any options left?
Fortunately, yes. If you aren’t satisfied with the review, you have the option of appealing directly to the Board of Veterans Appeals. This process is not as straightforward or as quick, but it is available.
Another option is that you may begin a Supplemental Claim. In this case, you will need to present additional evidence on top of what was submitted in your original claim and Higher Level Review.
Veterans may not appeal a Board decision to a Higher Level Review or request a Higher Level Review of the HLR you received. You also cannot appeal to the Board consecutively.
If the Board issues a decision you disagree with, you may continue with a Supplemental Claim or appeal to the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims (or CAVC).
Appeals to the Board are officially supposed to be determined within one year. Also, so long as the appeal has remained active, there will be no change to your potential effective date for benefits.
What does this mean for me?
In conclusion, the good news is that the appeals process has been made much more efficient under the AMA. This is excellent news for veterans who may have previously been discouraged by the lengthy appeals process. With the new, much quicker review turnarounds, those who may not have sought Higher Level Reviews for greater benefits now have greater incentive to do so.
The AMA is still young, but to this point, many veterans have been pleased with the results of the HLR requests.
As of this writing, the process of appealing for an HLR is more straightforward and more timely than ever.
If you have found disagreement with the decision of your VA Claim, be encouraged that there are more options than before, and your chances to receive a fair and satisfying benefit are much improved.
If you are tired of fighting the VA and you want the coaches to help you out, this is the fastest way to get started!
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About VA Claims Insider
VA Claims insider is an education-based coaching/consulting company. We’re here for disabled veterans exploring eligibility for increased VA disability benefits and who wish to learn more about that process. We also connect veterans with independent medical professionals in our referral network for medical examinations, disability evaluations, and credible independent medical opinions and nexus statements (medical nexus letters) for a wide range of disability conditions.