The VA Denied My Disability Claim. How to Appeal a VA Benefits Decision

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VA Disability Benefits Claim Denied. What do you do next?
Filing a VA Benefits claim can be a complicated process that can take months, or even years, to resolve. And sometimes, the VA’s decision doesn’t go the way you want it to. Does the following sound familiar? You filed a claim for disability compensation with your Regional Office (RO) of Veterans Affairs. You logged on…

Filing a VA Benefits claim can be a complicated process that can take months, or even years, to resolve. And sometimes, the VA’s decision doesn’t go the way you want it to.

Does the following sound familiar?

You filed a claim for disability compensation with your Regional Office (RO) of Veterans Affairs.

You logged on to the eBenefits website relentlessly for months (if not years), tracking the progress of your disability claim. Then you receive the packet in the mail stating, that after all of that frustration and waiting, your claim has been denied. Now what?

You know that you need and deserve disability compensation, otherwise, you wouldn’t have applied for it in the first place. You’re most likely frustrated and wondering how they just dismiss the evidence, your service, and the cost it has taken on your daily life. Know that you’re not alone in your frustration.

So, what do you do? After the VA has denied your claim, it can be frustrating to hear that the only way to fight for your disability compensation is with one bureaucratically pushed paper at a time. It’s true though. If you want to receive the compensation you need and deserve, you’ll need to navigate your way through the VA’s bureaucratic process in order to file an appeal and hopefully get a favorable result.

We’ll show you how.

VA Disability Benefits Claim Denied. What do you do next?

Appealing Your VA Benefits Decision – First Steps to Take

Before we get started, you need to know the date your decision was made. The VA updated the appeals process for all decisions made on or after February 19, 2019. If your decision was made on or after that date, you will need to read the new review process. If your decision was made prior to that date, you will need to read the legacy appeals process (both are covered in this guide).

Finally, these are the first steps you should take before filing a VA benefits claim appeal:

Don’t let anger cloud your vision

A denial of your claim does not mean that you are not eligible, so don’t believe that you will never be successful in pursuing your disability benefits. Data has shown that certain Veteran Affairs Regional Offices (VARO) have denied as many as 71% of their claims simply because of errors in processing.

Keep duplicate records and copies of everything

When dealing with the appeals process especially, only use certified mail, keep your receipts, and make sure that the paperwork that is sent to your VARO has to be signed upon receipt. This not only allows you know that the paperwork physically made it into someone’s hands, but you will also have proof that you met the filing deadline required for the paperwork in question.

Don’t expect it to go fast

Due to countless studies showing the inefficiencies of the disability claims processes the VA has implemented new response benchmarks. The VA now hopes to have all claims reviewed by a higher-level official within 4 – 5 months. Previously this process could take up to 18 months.

New VA Disability Claim Decision Appeals Process (After Feb 18, 2019)

The VA updated the appeals process to apply to all decisions made on or after February 19, 2019. We will show you how to file an appeal using both methods. You can also visit the VA page devoted to the new appeals process. Or you can read more about these steps below:

Step 1: Choose a decision review option

Instead of following a linear, yet circular process, veterans now can choose from one of the following options.

  • Add new and relevant evidence
  • Request a higher-level review
  • Appeal to a Veterans Law Judge

Add new and relevant evidence (Supplemental Claim)

This option is fairly straightforward in that it requires you to produce new evidence that reviewers did not have at the time they reviewed your initial claim. Relevant evidence is considered something that could prove or disprove part of your claim. To file a Supplemental Claim you will need to fill out VA Form 20-0995 (PDF) and follow the steps outlined on the VA website. You can file new and relevant evidence at any time.

Request a higher-level review

This option applies to individuals who do not have any new evidence to present, but would like a different party to review their initial claim. To begin this process you will need to complete VA Form 20-0996: Higher-Level Review (PDF) within one year of your initial decision.

You will have the opportunity to speak to your reviewer over the phone to advocate for why you believe a change is required. This process takes roughly 5 months. A full description of the process can be found on the VA website. You can only choose this option once and cannot apply for an appeal unless you can present new evidence via a Supplemental Claim.

Appeal to a Veterans Law Judge

For those choosing this option, you will have the ability to present new evidence, while elevating the decision to a judge at the Board of Veterans Appeals (BVA) in Washington, D.C. You will need to fill out VA Form 10182: Board Appeal (PDF) and will have the option to request a hearing in Washington, D.C. or via video conference at your local VA.

This process will take roughly one year or longer depending on your request and the time it takes to review any new evidence you present. You cannot request two Board Appeals in a row, but can request one after a denial of a Supplemental Claim or Higher-Level Review. For this reason, it is recommended to begin with a Supplemental Claim or Higher-Level Review. Details on the BVA process can be found on the VA website.

The BVA judge will either grant your request, deny your claim, or remand your claim, saying that additional time or work is necessary before they are able to make a decision. It is recommended that you seek help from someone with appeals experience. Here is a list of Veterans Service Organizations you can turn to for benefits claims help.

The only option after a final decision at this level is to take your appeal to the federal circuit court or to submit new evidence via a Supplemental Claim.

Historical VA Disability Claim Process (Prior to Feb 19, 2019)

Step 1: File a Notice of Disagreement (NOD)

For those who received a denial prior to February 19, 2019, the only way that you can start an appeal of your claim is by filing a Notice of Disagreement form (NOD) with your Regional Office (RO). Without this NOD form you won’t be able to start the appeals process.

The NOD states that you disagree with the decision you received regarding your claim for disability compensation. The NOD form is the only way to begin your appeal process when you disagree with VA’s decision on your claim for disability compensation.

Step 2: Choose a type of review

The next step in the process is deciding whether or not you want to have a Decision Review Officer (DRO) or a traditional review by marking the appropriate box on your NOD. Read the fine print of your denial letter, and take action immediately.

Current VARO procedures allow veterans 60 days to decide whether they want a Direct Review Officer assigned to their appeal or a traditional review of their appeal. After those 60 days, you lose all choice in the process.

So, which should you choose?

A traditional review of your appeal requires a rating staff member to analyze your claim file for completeness, accuracy, and any errors. They will review all of your evidence and paperwork. They are the ones reviewing your file, but they do not have the authority to change the decision unless the regional office staff made a clear and unmistakable error, or they identify new material evidence.

Step 3: VARO Review of your claim

If you choose a DRO, they will conduct a “de novo review” of your claim, meaning that they will completely review every bit of evidence, arguments, and paperwork in your file. All DROs are senior claims examiners who have the authority to reverse, uphold, or make a different decision on your claim.

If you choose a traditional review, your claim will be reviewed either by a DRO or a rating veterans service representative, who will only be allowed to reverse a decision if there is a clear and unmistakable error. It is their job to prepare a rating decision after they review your appeal.

Step 4: The VA makes a decision

If the appeals staff deny that there are any issues with their original decision and claim that any new evidence submitted has no bearing on their decision, they will then prepare and issue a Statement of the Case (SOC), which essentially tells you why they have rejected the reasons behind your NOD claim for an appeal.

Step 5: VA Form 9

The SOC will also provide you with a VA Form 9 which is an Appeal to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals. If you still disagree with the ruling on your disability benefits, then you have to submit the VA Form 9 for further consideration by the VARO staff. You should use this form to explain why you still disagree and also to offer further support or evidence of your case.

Note: The appeals process has a continuous open record, meaning that you may submit new supporting evidence or additional information for the appeals staff to review for the case at any time. Any new evidence will lengthen the time spent before a decision is made though, since each piece of evidence requires a new Supplement Statement of the Case (SSOC) decision, which sends your appeal back in line in the process. So, try to submit all supporting evidence of your case early and altogether. If your condition worsens, or new evidence presents itself, then always submit new medical records and diagnoses to support your claim.

Step 6: Board of Veterans Appeals

If the appeals staff still do not decide in your favor, then they will certify that your appeal has been sent to the Board of Veterans Appeals (BVA) for their review of your claim.

The BVA will either grant your request, deny your claim, or remand your claim, saying that additional time or work is necessary before they are able to make a decision.

It is recommended that you seek help from someone with appeals experience. Here is a list of Veterans Service Organizations you can turn to for benefits claims help.

Step 7: Formal Hearing with a Board Veterans Law Judge

Approximately 25 percent of Veterans whose appeals reach the Board request a formal hearing before a Law Judge. The Veterans Law judge will discuss their appeal and review any new evidence. The Board Veterans Law Judges will make a final decision on your appeal.

The only option after a final decision is to take your appeal to the federal circuit court within 120 days of the Board’s decision.

This is listed as seven steps just as a way to break apart the process. The VA appeals process for disability claims is a non-linear, continuous open record process that is based in law that has accumulated for more than 80 years. This whole, multi-level review process can take up to four years.

Accept the process or work to change it

If you want to have a better chance at a successful outcome, file your paperwork on time (one-year deadline to appeal), submit all records yourself (don’t expect the VA to find them for you), and keep on top of the process.

The appeals process can be long and complicated, with some appeals taking over a year to be decided after you are initially denied your benefits claim. Enlisting assistance is one of the most important things you can do to make sure your claim is filed properly and on time. You have earned your benefits and you owe it to yourself to file your appeal correctly the first time.

If you are unsure of how to proceed, you may even want to consider hiring an attorney who is well-versed with the VA appeals process. Until and unless they are able to successfully change the laws that bind the VA disability claim appeals process, you have no choice but to follow the bureaucratic paper trail.

If you want to try to make a change, contact your state representative and ask that they work towards an effective change in the process for appealing a decision on a veteran’s disability claim.

How has the process outlined above differed from your experience? Let us know!

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About Kristi Muse

Kristi Muse is a military reservist spouse and freelance writer. She loves writing about strategies to save military families money, get out of debt, and live a frugal life. Kristi shares her own experiences about debt and parenthood on her blog Moderate Muse.

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  1. Mr Paul says

    The VA is a Horrible Department of people to deal with, and they are NOT on your side. Even the Detroit DAV failed to help.
    I went through the documented steps, even the latest witch was a live teleconference, which the DAV rep just sat there and said NOTHING to support me. Further despite that the medical injuries that are recorded in black and white in the medical records while on active duty, they deny and deny and deny. Just because I don’t go crying to medical every day, for continued pain, I am denied. Just because I am between wars (The LOSS Veterans ), I am denied.
    No the VA is a Horrible group of people and cannot be trusted. I guess my only hope is to SUE them, the Government and Every one involved. Date 12/16/2019.

  2. Paul R DeRousseau says

    This article is outdated and should be removed from the website. it is inaccurate and is a disservice to veterans who read it and rely on the information contained. There is a new appeals process that does not involve filing a Notice of Disagreement. Please do your homework and disregard this blog.

    • Ryan Guina says

      Hello Paul, Thank you for this note. The article was accurate at the time of publication. We will review this and update it to reflect the current process. I will need ot place this on my to-do list as I will be traveling over the next few weeks. But I anticipate being able to update this article in the next few weeks. Thank you.

    • Greg Pickard says

      It’s better to refer to the general process and not try to get to specific because at the current time a Veteran could still Appeal under to “Legacy” NOD process depending on when their claim was denied. They might fall under the “Veteran Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act of 2017” but to explain the difference may be more than you intend for this page. Unless you have exact dates and circumstances of the claim, you will just confuse the Veteran. Best advice, go to a Veteran Service Organization (Amer. Legion, VFW, DAV, etc), Lawyer or Claims Agent. Just don’t try to do it on your own unless you are very familiar with 38 CFR and legal procedures. The Appeals law changed in Feb 2019.

  3. Chico says

    It is a lot of strong minded veterans on here. My military career was sabotaged and covered up to make me look like I was not military material. I have the paperwork to prove it. Yet this happened 20 years ago. I was targeted so much that I suffered from ptsd for the last 20 years which began in the military. But my strength comes from within. And also my Heavenly Father above. They couldn’t break my will back then and today I’m in a position to put those who sabotaged me on display. Keep your heads up soldiers and never surrender what you deserve.

  4. francis vidal says

    I was told nothing was wrong with me yet given a reentry code of 3 meaning I would need to be medically cleared so if my knee was fine then why would I need to medically cleared? move forward 15 years and 3 more surgeries cpap at night but in pain all of the time and still have a rating of 0. the VA even tried to say I tripped when my achilis ruptured good thing I went to the civilian hospital and the report clearly states my knee gave out and caused my achilis to tear. just recently my civilian ortho noted severe deteration in my service connected knee and magically the VA saw no change since 2001. I gave up for many years but as my body fails and my quality of life continues to fail im ready to fight again and this time there will be NO giving up!

  5. Dana Stitely says

    Hi,
    My nephew was discharged other than honorable/dishonorable in like 2004. He had just returned from Iraq and his “battle buddy” went AWOL.At that time they searched the “battle buddies” locker and there was marijuana. When questioned my nephew admitted to smoking it as well. He was told that he would be discharged and determining his status depended on if he followed through with groups/classes.He was then placed on lock down and unable to leave his room. Since he did not do the classes that they prevented him from he was given the discharge above. He has been against the military ever since and did not seek benefits. He suffers daily from PTSD and substance abuse. The family was finally able to convince him to seek treatment. After less than 1 week ,of sobriety and doing well in treatment, he was told that 3 years ago there was a level of determination denying him and that there was really nothing he could do at this point. He had a plan togo to step down treatment. I guess he will get nothing now :(. Is there anything we can do???

  6. David S Vega says

    11 months waiting for a decision and today I get denied all of them. Not Service connected. Diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder while active in the Marines, 2 hospitalizations in the mental ward in 9 months, all documented, currently under treatment by VA and medicated for bipolar disorder and PTSD. Bilateral leg conditions well documented was on crutches 2 weeks and had a bone scan done. Currently in treatment by VA for my legs. Yet the say not Service connected. Pure manure! I’m on Klonopin as I write this because when I saw the notification I had a panic attack. I guess our service and sacrifice was worth crap. Yet I say, Semper Fi but to my fellow warriors and devil dogs not to this burocracy.
    Good luck to all. I lost the battle but a Marine never retreats or surrenders. Now the war begins.

  7. Johnny P says

    My problem is that I was in the process of a cross-state move while my VA claim was being decided. I was not aware that there is a one year deadline to file an appeal for a denied claim. I assume all claim decision information was sent to my old address. Now I can’t find an attorney to represent me because I can no longer appeal my denied claim. So I’m back at the beginning. Apparently VA disability attorneys will not represent you until you are able to appeal. Do I file a new claim? Why would I do that when I know it will be denied again? I give up. VA wins. The system was setup so they can win, otherwise they would be in debt.

    • Rob Thiede says

      I feel the same. My claim was sent but I moved and could not contact the rep I was working with. Finally got a hold of him and found out that my claims were denied over a year ago but I was not informed. What are my options? Can I re-file? Or am I SOL.

  8. Spike says

    Total Nightmare here too. After two years and two months I found out the VA has denied most of my claim. They’ve awarded me a measly 10% for Tinnitus. They have denied my Diabetes, which was diagnosed during my retirement physical. They have denied my exposure to Tuberculosis which occurred in the middle of my first tour in Iraq. A full four years before retirement. They have denied my claim of bilateral knee arthritis which was diagnosed by an Army Flight Surgeon two years before I retired. And my list goes on. It’s as if they want to stop the clock on my “intent to file” so they won’t have to pay me 26 months of back compensation. They know I’ll appeal but they can start the clock over again and save themselves more money. Plus, I’m having trouble trusting the officers at the Veteran’s Service Office. They seem to be in on the grift as they work for the VA after all. Someone tell me I’m wrong.

  9. Kelsey says

    I have a mental disability, and all of this is a nightmare. I have no strength left to go through this insanely long appeal process. I’m about to lose EVERYTHING because of my mental health issues. I just feel that my life is falling apart.

  10. Mark says

    What do you do when he VA distroys your medical records to prevent the VA from getting in trouble, several years of medical records have vanished from the Kansa city possession they have used six different cover magic disappearance

    • Ryan Guina says

      Mark, you should report this to the Inspector Generals office. Contacting your state officials may also be helpful. I also recommend keeping copies of all your military and medical records at all times. This ensures you have copies in case other versions are lost, damaged, incomplete, or destroyed.

  11. Christina says

    This is Christine again , I was also told that the va would be calling me to assure them that his wife was fit to take care of him . No one ever contacted me and I find out that their was a visit by the va and granted caregiver to his wife …was I soposed to be notified. If you can pls do

  12. Christina says

    I was my fathers primary care giver and testified for him at his hearing. . With his lawyer. He won his case , however I was taken off as a caregiver and his wife at the time they claimed to be separated . The wife is on his benifits and care giver and I was taken off with no notice ? Can you help me understand if there is something I can do

  13. DennisF.Covel says

    This has been a long and exhausting process. In 1972 I was given a chapt 10 under conditions other than Honorable. While serving in Vietnam Nam the primary reason was for 35 day AWOL the days were not continuous and occurred over several months. They wanted todo a court marshal but I took the discharge instead. In 1976 They opened it up for people who had served in RVN to have there Discharge upgraded to General Under Honorable. I filled and was Awared that Discharge in August of 1977, with that in hand I ran to my local Recruiter. They wouldn’t take me back in the Army, but with a waiver, I signed up for the Army National Guard. I entered as an E-2 and Served Honorably for the next 35 Years and retired at age 60 inMarch 2012 as a Command Sergant Major. When I got back from Iraq in 2006. And started looking into VA Benifits I was Totally denied from everything. Do to my previous Discharge. I signed a Power of attorney to the VFW for help,and they found that in 1978 my discharge was Reviewed again and reversedBack to the original chapt 10. They did not notify myself nor even The National Guard new. Any way I have appealed that, but the VFW has dropped the ball several times and I want to change VSO’s to American Legion, what would be the ramifications for doing that. Would I have to start over, or could the Legion pick up the ball and run with it. Thanks in advance for any help you can provide.
    Dennis.

  14. Christopher B says

    In October 2011 I received a Certificate of Eligibility form stating I was entitled to receive 100% of the benefits payable under the Post 9/11 GI Bill program for training offered by an institution of higher education. I finally used some of those benefits in July 2013 to October 2013 for 6 credit hours. In Feb 2017 I enrolled back into Trade School. I’ve been attending class and shop for over two months now and the school has not received tuition and I have not received bah or book stipend. I contacted VA Education and was told that they had an administration error and that I was only able to receive 60% of school benefits. They said my previous school will be waived and I will not owe anything but now I need to pay 40% of the tuition for the school I’m attending now. I told them if that was the case I would not have enrolled in school seeing that my family of five is on a budget. We just can’t afford tuition, seeing that I lost my job May of last year. This will cause a financial hardship for my family. I have copies of eligibility forms from the VA sent. Now I have to suffer because someone did not do their job right!

  15. Richard W Ravan says

    I was a member of the USN, I was active duty from 1981 to 1986 I served onboard USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69) and the USS Coronado (AGF-11). Under the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell”, policy. I opted to get out by admitting my homosexuality and was released under an OTH (Other Than Honorable), in June 1986, which was upgraded six months later to an Honorable discharge, after I filed my appeal. I was told I would not be eligible for any military benefits due to the reason of my discharge, Homosexuality. Even though I got an “Honorable”, discharge upgrade. How could I, at this time, March 27, 2016 appeal that decision? I am being treated unfairly for my sexual orientation, in my elected decision to leave the military.

  16. HorizontalMike says

    This article is ALMOST perfect! The only thing it lacks is advice to seek out LEGAL COUNSEL, AKA a VA rep Lawyer. Yes it will cost you 20% of any retro-check for disability, BUT and it is a BIG BUT!… The VA is well practiced at winning via attrition, you know… you get too tired to keep fighting, and the VA also has their own lawyers on the payroll.

    In other words, DO NOT cheap out and think for a second that you can do this alone. The reality is that the VA knows WHO has a lawyer Rep. and and who does NOT have professional help.

    Three years one month and counting… But I would do it the same again! Don’t let the B-turds win. ‘Nuff said.

    • Joyce says

      I got my claim approved in less than seven months by relying on a cheaper option: the US representative that represents my district. No attorney needed.

  17. Sheila Berg says

    Don’t go this maze alone! Get help from a Veterans Service Officer (VSO). They can be found at a Veterans Organization such as VFW, American Legion,DAV to name a few. They will file the paperwork with your permission. Don’t give up!

    • HorizontalMike says

      I started that way with Texas Vets and then DAV. Neither did much of anything if YOU didn’t know what you wanted to file IN DETAIL and kept hounding them about it.

      Save the heartache and get a good vet rep lawyer. Found mine adverting on hadit.com but I am sure there are other forums that can steer you in the right direction. Well worth the piece of mind, though be aware that that will not speed up the process.

  18. Angel Snape says

    Hi Ryan, This is a real touchy topic with a lot of veterans. I think the VA is like an insurance company. They don’t like to have to pay out even though you have given them the right documentation and criteria. A lot of vets (there is one up the street that suffers from agent orange poisoning), get totally railed when it comes to getting proper care. I think the entire organization should fold and start again with a better plan.

  19. Robert Williams says

    I had my claim for benefits denied and i can’t find the papers they sent me. how do get another copy so i can file an appeal.

    • Bob Cook says

      If you have a device rep from a veteran service organization such as VFW, DAV, American Legion, to name a few. They will have access to your file and should be able to get a copy for you. If not, contact a VSO to become your rep So they can help you out.

  20. Ryan Guina says

    Hello Richard, the military has made some changes for those who were discharged under the old Don’t Ask Don’t Tell laws. Here is an article from the official Army website that discusses appealing discharges under this policy. Typically veterans with a Honorable Discharge aren’t blocked from benefits. The best I can say is to visit the VA and have them go over your benefits with you so you can understand which benefits you are eligible to receive.

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