VA benefit claim denied. Now what?
Let's talk about it...
Is it over?I often tell clients that their first VA denial letter is the beginning - not the end - of a long journey that'll hopefully conclude with the veteran receiving his or her service-connected compensation.
An approved claim for compensation is simply an acknowledgment by the VA that your paperwork showed adequate evidence of a valid medical disability, and that the information you submitted met strict requirements established by law. If either of the two prongs is missing, you can expect a claim denial.
They couldn't get it wrong... could they?If the VA claim adjudication process deals with medical terminology and complicated legal rules (e.g. CFR, USCA, and case law to name a few), then surely the people making decisions about those claims are doctors and lawyers, right?
You would think that the folks approving and denying disability claims are medical and legal professionals, right? Wrong.
How about the folks at your local Regional Office evaluating your appeal or reconsideration? Doctors or lawyers? Nope.
Do you think, then, that the VA might be susceptible to making mistakes? To denying claims that should have been approved? To committing errors? Yes, yes, and yes.
What's the fix?You might ask, is there a process to address the claim denial that you believe was faulty, incorrect, and just plain wrong? Yes. Appeal.
The first step in the appeals process is to let the VA know, in no uncertain terms, that you disagree with their decision. In fact, the VA has created a form for you to do just that... Form 21-0958 Notice of Disagreement.
Think about it: the VA incorrectly evaluated so many claims and for so long, that Congress was compelled to enact a new judicial entity to help correct those mistakes. Currently, the process goes something like this: an initial claim is filed at your local Regional Office. If it's denied, you will have several opportunities to appeal and resolve the claim locally. If the RO decision remains unfavorable, your claim can be heard by a Veterans Law Judge at the Board of Veterans' Appeals. If you still disagree with the denial, you can appeal to the US Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims. The process from initial denial to USCAVC can take up to several years.
So, if the VA denied your benefits claim, know that, in the immortal words of Karen Carpenter, "We've only just begun..."
Why hire a lawyer?Are you required to be represented by a lawyer in VA proceedings? No.
Should you have a lawyer? Well...
If you decide to appeal, you'll be fighting against the Department of Veterans Affairs - the federal agency that just denied your claim and provided you with its reasons why. You'll need to know medical terminology and legalese. If your claim appears on the docket at the US Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, you'll be up against some of the VA's best attorneys whose job it is to defend the Board of Appeals decision.
Shouldn't you have someone defending what you are entitled to?