If you have a rapidly approaching VA appeal deadline for your disability benefits case, you may be wondering what steps you need to take to make sure that things move forward as smoothly as possible. Sorting through the requirements of the appeal process can be daunting, but understanding the next steps can make it easier and less overwhelming.
The VA appeal process has undergone recent changes designed to make it more efficient after complaints about the lengthy time it took to arrive at decisions. Even with these updates, the appeal process can be a lengthy one, so it is important to fully understand the options available to make sure you are appealing your case in the way that’s most appropriate to your individual circumstances.
What Is the VA Appeal Deadline?
There is no statute of limitations for when a veteran can apply for benefits with the VA. However, it can be a lengthy process, so the recommendation is that veterans apply for benefits as soon as they become disabled to ensure that they’ll receive benefits as quickly as possible.
Once a claim is filed, the VA will make a decision and send the results of that decision to the claimant. The VA has a self-stated 125-day goal to issue claim decisions. However, as of July 2021, that deadline had often been exceeded with average claim decisions taking 139.6 days, according to the VA’s own data.
Once you receive the claim decision, you may disagree with the findings. If so, you have the opportunity to appeal under the Appeals Modernization Act. The VA appeal deadline is one year from the date of the initial decision. Once you have received a Statement of Case (SOC), you have 60 days to file your appeal.
What Is the Appeals Modernization Act (AMA)?
As of August 23, 2017, the Veteran Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act of 2017 became law. This law is more commonly known as the Appeals Modernization Act, or AMA. The AMA aimed to modernize an outdated appeals system that had made wait times for appeal decisions excessively long, leaving veterans waiting for status updates for years.
Under this law, anyone who has a VA decision dated after February 19, 2019 will have three appeal options available to them.
Option 1: Supplemental Claim
A supplemental claim is appropriate for a claimant who is adding new information to their original claim. The VA will help gather the evidence used to support the new information, and claimants may need to attend medical appointments created for that purpose. This appeal is filed by using VA Form 20-0995.
The VA aims to respond to Supplemental Claim appeals within an average of 125 days. If the claimant still disagrees with the outcome, they are able to appeal using Option 2 or Option 3 below.
Option 2: Higher-Level Review
A higher-level review appeal is appropriate for a claimant who has no new information but believes there are errors in the original decision. The higher-level review will allow for a one-time, informal discussion with a senior reviewer. In this conversation, the veteran can point out the errors in order to appeal for a different decision. This appeal is filed using VA Form 20-0996 or via the online system.
The VA aims to respond to higher-level review appeals within an average of 125 days. If the claimant disagrees with the outcome of the appeal, they can use Option 1 or Option 3 to appeal again.
Option 3: Board Appeal
A board appeal is the most thorough of the appeal options, and these cases will be heard by a Veterans Law Judge at the Board of Veterans’ Appeals. These cases will be reviewed within an average of one year, but cases requiring additional evidence will likely take longer. This appeal is filed using VA Form 10182. Claimants have three options for what kind of review they’d like to pursue:
- Direct Review: Appropriate for cases that require no additional evidence or hearing
- Evidence Submission: Appropriate for cases that require additional evidence but no hearing
- Hearing: Appropriate for cases that will require a full hearing
If the claimant disagrees with the outcome of the appeal, they have the option to file a Supplemental Claim with additional information about the case. If there is no additional information, the claimant can appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims.
What Can I Do to Support My VA Appeal?
The most important thing you can do to ensure a smooth appeal process is meet the VA appeal deadline and use the option that best matches your individual case. This helps to ensure that your case will receive the scrutiny and level of attention appropriate to the details.
If the VA makes appointments or asks for additional documentation to support your appeal, it is important to make sure you keep those appointments and to submit that documentation as quickly as possible.
What Happens if My Claim Is Still Denied?
If your claim is denied or you disagree with the decision even after an appeal, you still have options available. Under the AMA, veterans who are dissatisfied with the appeal decision under one of the three options have the opportunity to use the other options to move their case forward for further review. Which options are available will depend on whether or not there is new evidence or information that pertains to the case or if the claimant is pointing to errors in the existing decision without new evidence. A veterans disability lawyer can help you navigate this process.
Even if a veteran loses all appeals, they still have the ability to file a brand new case and start the process over from the beginning. There is no statute of limitations for when a veteran can apply for benefits, and there is no limit to the number of times a veteran can start the application process.