One of the most frustrating things a veteran can deal with is a denial of a benefits claim with the Veterans Administration. There are many reasons the VA might deny your claim for disability compensation, health care, education, or other VA benefits, and you can often appeal their decision. In most cases, you have one year from the date of the notification from the VA to file an appeal.
The reason for the denial of the claim should determine your course of action.
In some cases, an appeal is fairly easy and straightforward, as the denial of benefits may have stemmed from a clerical error or a lack of information.
In these instances, you may be able to handle the appeals process by filling out VA FORM 9, sending it in with additional information or documentation, and waiting for a response. You may also be able to upload supporting documents via VONAPP the Veterans On-Line Application portal (learn how to create a new VONAPP account).
However, in many cases, your appeal may be more involved than you can handle on your own. In fact, the first instruction on VA Form 9 is to Consider Getting Assistance.
The VA understands the process can be complicated and they recommend you get all the help you need in order to receive the benefits you rightly deserve. We will cover a few options for finding assistance with your VA benefits claim.
Veterans Administration Claims Appeal Process
Before you get started, it’s important to remember that virtually every case is unique, and there is rarely one-size-fits-all information that will help you with your benefits claim appeal.
I strongly recommend enlisting the help of a qualified individual in the appeals process, as it will save you time and frustration.
Here are the steps in The VA Benefits appeals process:
- Submit your claim and receive your decision from the VA
- File a Notice of Disagreement with the VA if you believe you should receive different benefits
- The VA will create a Statement of the Case, which is a detailed explanation of the evidence, laws, and regulations used in deciding your claim.
- File a response with a Substantive Appeal, VA FORM 9.
- Personal Hearings (if elected).
- Decision from the Board of Veterans’ Appeals.
VA FORM 9 is one of the most important steps in the appeals process, so you want to ensure you fill it out thoroughly and correctly.
In this form, you should state the benefit you are seeking and any mistakes which may be found in the Statement of Case provided by the VA. This step is where you will likely want assistance (remember, it is the first step recommended by the VA).
From this point, your claim may be decided solely by the documentation you submit, or you can request a board hearing in person, or via video conference. If you elect to have a board hearing, you will almost certainly wish to have representation.
You only have a limited amount of time to file your appeal, so it is important to get started as soon as possible. Here is where to go for help:
Find a VA Benefits Counselor
There are many counselors who specialize in VA benefits claims and appeals. You may be able to find a counselor at your local VA Office who can help you navigate the paperwork and red tape to better understand your options during the appeals process.
Many states and counties also have their own Veterans Affairs or veterans services offices (these organizations often go by different names, so be sure to do a thorough check). Some of these organizations have counselors who can help you file a claim or appeal at both the local or national level.
Contact a Veterans Service Organization
There are also many veterans service organizations that offer free or affordable assistance for veterans. One of the best places to start is the VA’s Accreditation web site, which lists accredited Veterans Service Organizations chartered by Congress.
The National Resource Directory also has a thorough list of Chartered Veterans Service Organizations and Non-Chartered Veterans Service Organizations. These organizations can provide assistance with your claim.
When you secure the assistance of a veterans service organization, you will need to sign a VA FORM 21-22, which appoints the Veterans Service Organization as your representative and allows them to work on your behalf.
Examples of VSOs that can assist with the claims process
One of the more well-known options is the VFW’s National Service Office, which provides assistance with all steps of the claims process and is available to all veterans, regardless of whether or not you are a member of the VFW.
Other VSOs. Some of the groups which are available to assist you include the
- American Legion
- American Red Cross
- American Ex-Prisoners of War, Inc.
- Disabled American Veterans
- Military Order of the Purple Heart
- Non-Commissioned Officers Association of the USA
- The Retired Enlisted Association
- Vietnam Era Veterans Association
- Vietnam Veterans of America,
- and more.
You can see some more info on these organizations on our list of Veterans Service Organizations.
Other military organizations may have helpful resources
You may also try contacting other groups such as local or national military organizations not on this list.
These groups may or may not have someone who can directly help you file your appeal (it will vary by location). But most of these organizations have members who are a treasure trove of information and experience and can point you to someone who can assist you or help you save time by avoiding making mistakes they have seen in the past.
Non Veterans Service Organizations
The organizations listed above are either Chartered or Non-Chartered Veterans Service Organizations and have met certain government standards to be appointed to the list.
You may, however, decide to use someone else to assist you with your claim.
Be sure to do thorough research before doing so, and be aware that they will have access to your personal records required to submit the claim, and they may or may not charge a fee. Be sure to understand your options before using a non Veterans Service organization to assist you in the claims process.
Hiring a Lawyer to Appeal a VA Benefits Claim Decision
In some cases, you may find that hiring a lawyer might be your best option to help you appeal your denied VA benefits claim. It is usually best to exhaust other options first, but sometimes you need to take your appeal to the next level.
Because this is a specialized area of law, you may wish to go to a law firm that specializes in these types of claims rather than go to the family law practice you might go to for an estate plan or something similar.
You need specialized help to make sure your claim is filed correctly and on time.
I can’t recommend a specific lawyer, as there are hundreds of lawyers across the US who specialize in this area of law. I can give you a few tips on hiring a lawyer, and recommend that you seek a lawyer or legal advocate that specializes in government claims and appeals, including Social Security Disability Claims, Veterans Benefits, Workers Comp, and long term disability.
You should also look for attorneys and advocates who offer a completely free, No Cost / No Obligation consultations. This will help you understand if they will be able to help you with your claim.
File Your Appeal Correctly the First Time
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 o 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.