Before you keep reading this Guide to the Board of VA Appeals, ask yourself these questions:
Were you denied your VA Disability compensation claim? Or are you unsatisfied with the rating you were assigned by the VA Ratings Board?
If you answered yes to either of these questions, then this is the guide for you!
What, Exactly, is the Board of VA Appeals?
The Board of VA Appeals (BVA) is an appellate body of the Department of Veterans Affairs. It consists of Board members (a.k.a. Veterans Law Judges), that can adjudicate benefits decisions at a higher level in the Veterans Benefits Administration. The BVA has the ability to review and reverse decisions that come from Regional Offices.
The Board will review previous decisions to make sure that VA law was correctly followed in regard to the claim. These judges will look at evidence from before the Regional Office decision along with new evidence the veteran may submit after. This can include new medical evidence or testimony from a hearing.
This is called a “de novo” review. “De novo” means that the review is fresh, with the BVA reviewing all evidence new and old. The BVA is not restricted at all by the previous decision from the Regional Office, which is why it can easily reverse the previous decision.
Generally speaking, there are three outcomes that you can expect to see come forth from a BVA review.
- Granted Benefits. This is when the BVA rules in your favor completely! This decision will then be sent back to the Regional Office to be implemented. It will be up to the Regional Office to determine the effective date of the claim, which will impact your back pay. This is in the cases where the BVA grants service-connection.
In cases where the BVA decides an increased rating, the Judges will determine the new rating and then have the Regional Office determine the proper effective date.
Note that the retroactive benefits will not be issued immediately following a grant. Wait time can vary because the VA does not have a specific timeline for awarding back pay. However, the period you have to wait for will be included in those benefits.
- Remand. If the BVA determines that more information is needed for the review of your claim this is called a “remand.” If this happens the Judges send the claim back to the Regional Office asking for more, and specific, information.
- Final Denial. This is the only truly unfavorable outcome you may receive from the BVA. In the case the BVA issues a final denial, you will have one more opportunity to appeal, this time to the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims. This appeal must be filed within 120 days.
The BVA Hearing Process
Ok, so now you’re ready to appeal, how do you do it?
Here are the steps you can expect to follow in order to receive a reviewed decision from the BVA.
1. File VA Form 9
The VA Form 9 is how you start to appeal to the Board of VA Appeals. It is also called the Substantive Appeal Form. This option becomes available to you after the VA has rendered a decision on your initial appeal and you have received a Statement of the Case (SOC).
When filling this out you will be given multiple options for requesting your personal hearing with a judge.
Your options include:
Travel Board Hearing. This is where you will testify in person in front of a Veterans Law Judge at your local VA regional office. Usually, the BVA visits each regional office annually for about 5 days. During this visit, multiple hearings will be scheduled, with hearings conducted on a first-come, first-serve basis.
Videoconference Hearing. With this choice, you will testify in front of a Veterans Law Judge in Washington D.C. from a teleconference at your VA regional office. You may also have the option of your attorney being in D.C. while you are still at the local VA office.
Hearing in Washington, D.C. Similar to a travel board hearing, the hearing slot in Washington D.C. will have multiple claimants scheduled. Again the first-come, first-serve basis will be used. However, with your willingness to travel you may be able to receive a quicker hearing.
Despite the option you choose, you will have the opportunity to present your case to a Veterans Law Judge.
(You may also choose to waive your right to an in-person hearing. In this case, your evidence and claim will be sent to the BVA for review, where they will look at it and render a decision. This is, in fact, a commonly recommended path for many veterans because it can be faster).
The VA Form 9 must be submitted within 60 days from the date the VA mailed your SOC.
This form will give the VA regional office an outline of your appeal. If it is properly completed it will be easier for the decision-maker to follow your argument, increasing your chance of a favorable decision.
Be very specific with the issues you want to contest. Everything you mention will require supporting evidence.
Once your Form 9 is received and your hearing is scheduled, you will receive a notice in the mail at least 30 days prior to the hearing.
If you need a VA Form 9, you can download one by clicking here.
2. How do you know Whether or Not to Send in More Evidence?
It’s generally recommended that any new evidence you plan to submit be brought with you to the hearing to be submitted there.
However, if you feel the need to submit more evidence before your hearing, it is recommended that you wait until the BVA has confirmed they have your file. This is because if you submit your new evidence beforehand, your regional office will be required to evaluate the evidence first, potentially resulting in more delay before your hearing.
3. Preparing for the BVA Hearing
It can take weeks or even months for the Board of VA Appeals to have your hearing scheduled. During this time it is your chance to gather more evidence in support of your claim and the rating you believe you deserve.
Take advantage of this time. Gather evidence, testimonies, and whatever else you can to make your claim as appealing as possible.
(For more information about how to best prepare for your hearing, check out this article!)
4. The Hearing
The hearing will begin by the Judge having you take an oath to tell the truth during the hearing.
From there you will communicate why you think you qualify for the VA benefits in your claim. You will then be asked questions about your appeal, so make sure you are fully prepared to know the ins and outs of your case. This will be much more like a conversation than a cross-examination, so don’t be nervous.
Finally, you will have the opportunity to present to the judge any new evidence you have obtained.
The hearing generally takes about 30 minutes but will last as long as needed to fully discuss your appeal.
Note that you will not receive a decision at your hearing. Instead, your case will be reviewed by the board in the order it was received. Once your appeal is one of the older ones they have it will be considered ready for review.
You CAN win your BVA Appeal!
The Board of VA Appeals exists to give veterans a chance to prove their VA Disability Claim is merited in the case their initial claim is denied or they receive a lower rating than they believe they deserve.
The BVA has the authority to grant your appeal, remand it, or give it a final denial. However, appealing to the BVA is not your final option if denied.
Recently VA reform has sped up the appeals process, which is good news to all veterans. In the last year the BVA processed 11% more decisions and held 38% more hearing than it did in 2018.