FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

  Can I find out the status of my VA disability claim?

The honest short answer is “No.”

The only person who knows what is happening to your VA disability claim is the VA employee who actually has your claims file in his or her hands (or, more likely, on their computer screen) at a particular moment.  There is no way for a claimant to know who or where that person is because VA now transfers responsibility for claims to offices other than the local office to try and balance the claim work load across the country.

If you want to contact the VA regional office where your VA disability claim or VA appeal is being processed, VA tells you to call a “800 number” (800-827-1000) or to use eBenefits.  VA does not tell you that this is the same number it gives to every VA claimant for every regional office.  In truth, this number only reaches one of a few “call centers” scattered around the country – it does not connect to any regional office.  The person who answers your call is a contract operator – just like the person who takes your call when you order something over the phone.  This person knows nothing about your VA disability claim or VA appeal (or anyone else’s VA disability claim or VA appeal) – the person is just looking at a computer screen – and will tell you just about anything to keep you from staying on the line longer than the few minutes allotted for each caller.  From all reports, the VA “eBenefits” system is little better because both use information from a VA computer system.  That information is reportedly wrong about as often as it is right and is always (at least) many months old.

The only VA disability claim or VA appeal “status” that matters is information written by VA in a formal letter to you.  Phone calls, statements told you by VA employees at the regional office or over the phone, or any other unwritten “promises” -are (1) likely wrong and (2) have no legal value anyways.

 

  How will I know if VA denies my disability claim or appeal?

VA must inform you in writing of any decision it makes on your VA disability claim or appeal.  Usually, VA will send you a letter telling you what it decided on each disability claim and send you the “rating decision” or other formal document explaining how and why VA decided what it did.

These documents are important for many reasons.  First, the date of the cover letter determines when the period for you to disagree and appeal (or further appeal) an adverse decision ends.  Next, the VA rating decision must contain and explain several specific types of information about the decision and why VA either awarded or denied the claims.  Finally, these documents are the basis for any disagreement or appeal with any of the decisions made by VA.

 

  What should I do if VA denies my disability claim or appeal?

​When you receive the VA letter telling you that it has reached a decision on one or more of your VA disability claims, the first thing to do is carefully read everything.  VA makes a lot of very simple errors, such as sending letters with only odd or even number pages, sending decisions to the wrong person, deciding the wrong disability claims, deciding disability claims based on someone else’s evidence, and similar errors.  Make sure that you have a complete decision and it applies to you.

Next, make sure that there are not any “hidden” requests for you to do something.  VA is very good at hiding requests for more information or some other response inside of long letters – make sure you look at both sides of every page.  Although the VA claims process sets no deadlines for VA, VA can and will set deadlines for you to do something (sometimes only 30 or 60 days) or risk denial of your disability claim or VA appeal.

The next thing to do is to check the VA decision to see if all the disabling conditions that you claimed are addressed in the documents.  Sometimes VA “defers” a decision on a claim, while deciding others.  A decision is usually deferred when VA has requested but not received additional evidence or is going to schedule a medical examination before deciding that disability claim.  If VA defers one of your claims, make sure that you understand why and that it has something to do with your claim.

It is important to see whether VA has left one or more of your disability claims unresolved (VA has not either decided or deferred the claim).  By law, VA disability claims remain open and pending until VA decides them, so a disability claim cannot get permanently “lost” (at least, as long as you keep track of it).  VA, however, often loses track of claims which, if not brought to VA’s attention, can lead to long delays in getting those claims decided or the loss of the right to a VA appeal.

Finally, read the reasons that VA stated for denying any rejected claims.  Make a note of anything VA wrote that seems wrong to you.   Start a written list of the errors you see and the questions you have about each denial.  Don’t forget to look at the effective date (the date from which VA benefits start on an awarded claim)  -- VA often makes errors in assigning that date, which can cost you a lot of money in retroactive disability benefits.

 

  How do I know if I have a good appeal?

Veterans should not be intimidated or embarrassed by a VA denial of a disability claim.  There are many, many reasons why VA may have made a mistake and an appeal of a VA denial have merit.  Some VA errors are fairly easy to spot:  failure to consider all the evidence, an error in the underlying facts, or failure to obtain service or service medical records.  Any of these types of errors are a basis for starting the VA appeal process.

Other bases for a VA appeal are much more difficult to spot.  This is because despite VA’s talk about a “veteran friendly” system, the VA appeals process is extremely complicated and controlled by highly technical legal rules.  It is very difficult for a veteran claimant to know, for example, if VA applied the wrong evidentiary standard, failed to apply the proper regulation, ignored a controlling court ruling, or violated a VA rule regarding how to evaluate a specific disability claim.  This especially true when VA sends either a very short rating decision with little, or sometimes no, explanation for its denial of a claim or a very long document containing page after page of “boilerplate” statements.

In other words, the only way to determine if there is a reasonable chance of a successful VA appeal is to have someone with experience in VA claims appeals review your decision and the underlying evidence, and evaluate the decision based on the current law. 

A good attorney will be happy to review your VA disability case and tell you why starting the VA appeals process is likely – or unlikely – to lead to a successful result.

 

  Can I appeal my VA disability claims myself?

Sure, you have an absolute right to appeal your own VA disability claims to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals, the Veterans Court, the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, even the United States Supreme Court.

This is not the right question, however.  The right question is “Should I Appeal My VA Disability Claims Myself?”  This question is much harder to answer for most VA benefits claimants – and only you can answer it for yourself.  Talk to others who have tried to work their own VA appeals and those who have used an agent or a veterans attorney.  See what they have to say.

A few things, however, should be considered by anyone considering handling their own VA appeal: 

  • Do I know how to file a VA appeal?
  • Can I describe in writing what errors were in the VA disability claim decision I want to appeal?
  • Can I prepare the documents and arguments required in the VA appeals process?
  • Do I know what the Board and Veterans Court require to change a VA disability claim decision?
  • Do I know how to find what is required to win a VA appeal?
  • Do I have time to do all the above?
  • Is there something more important that I could be doing other than worrying about whether I am doing everything correctly on my VA appeal?

If you are confident that you are up to the challenge, go for it – it’s your money.

 

  Can I afford to have a veterans attorney help me?

This is another misleading question:  the correct question is “Can I Afford Not To Have A Veterans Attorney Help Me?” 

I only charge a “contingency” fee or whatever fees the government is required to pay under the Equal Access To Justice Act (EAJA) for VA benefit appeals.  This means that I only get paid if you win your VA appeal and receive an award on at least one VA disability claim.  In addition, I only get a part of the retroactive benefits, (the money VA owes you from the date of your disability claim until the date of the VA benefits award).  I do not get any part of any future VA benefits payments. 

So the real question that a VA claimant needs to ask himself or herself is:  whether “saving” a portion of money he or she does not yet have makes more sense than significantly improving the chances of receiving most of the retroactive benefits and all future VA disability benefits? 

I make a living only because I am successful in helping my clients win VA appeals.  I would not be in business if my clients did not believe that they made a good decision to hire me.

 

  What does a veterans attorney do?

I cannot speak for other veterans attorneys:  I can only tell you what I do for my clients.

First, what I do not do:  I do not send in my notice of representation and then wait to see what happens.

I do actively litigate your VA appeal.  Once we enter into an attorney-client engagement, I will handle all interaction with VA.  After providing notice of my representation to VA, I will submit the notices and VA forms required to most effectively prosecute your VA appeal. Also, depending on the circumstances of your case, I will request a complete copy of your VA claims file. 

When received, I will review your VA claims file (I actually look at the whole thing) and determine if there are other issues or errors in your VA disability claim or if additional evidence is required.  If additional evidence would be helpful, I will discuss with you how best to get it.  At the appropriate time, I will submit the new evidence and additional supporting argument to VA. 

Most importantly, during the entire engagement, I monitor the Veterans Court’s decisions, other relevant case law, and changes in VA regulations, rules, policies, procedures, and the VA appeals process that might provide an additional argument in support of your claim.  You will know what law applies to your VA claim and your VA appeal.  And I will make sure that VA is made aware of any changes that help your appeal.

 

  How do I get started?

    1. Gather the documents that VA has sent you regarding the denied claim or claims, including (at least) the rating decision.

    2. Prepare a short explanation of why you believe the decision is wrong.

    3. Contact me by using this form and I will contact you to discuss your case after I have reviewed the information you provided.

CONTACT ME   803-256-9555