How to Appeal a Denied Veteran’s Disability Claim

If the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has denied your claim for veteran’s disability compensation, you have options. You can file an appeal and ask the VA to review your case. It’s important to understand what factors may have led to your denied claim and how you can start the appeals process.

At The Law Offices of Michael Hartup, we’re committed to helping veterans with disabilities with their claims and appeals. If you need assistance appealing your denied claim, contact our Jackson, Tennessee, office by calling 731-424-5559. You may also fill out an online form to schedule an initial consultation. 

How COVID-19 Has Affected Veteran’s Disability

The COVID-19 global pandemic swept the United States in 2020. Veterans were affected in unexpected ways, and some continue to see its effects today. 

A December 2020 news report by KPBS in California found that thousands of veterans had their claims improperly denied because they were unable to see a doctor during the pandemic. The VA shut down all in-person appointments in April 2020. Because of these restrictions, many veterans had appointments scheduled and rescheduled, or even canceled. The backlog of exams grew to 1.5 million during the pandemic.

In addition, some VA doctors and contractors were told to only see patients remotely using telehealth, while outside practitioners were told that remote services were not allowed. For veterans, this confusion and mixed messaging led to longer wait times and denied claims.

Although the third round of stimulus checks and extended debt relief options through September 2021 may help some veterans get by, they don’t necessarily replace what regular veteran’s disability benefits offer. Appealing a denied claim as soon as possible can get you the benefits you deserve.

Common Reasons VA Claims Get Denied

When you file a veteran’s disability claim, you’ll send the VA evidence that relates to your disability, including medical records, hospital reports, supporting statements, and more. The VA will review your claim and all included documents before making a decision. They’ll either ask you for further information if needed, or they’ll send their decision to you in a letter. The average number of days to complete disability-related claims was 153.1 days in February 2021.

Many first-time veterans’ disability claims are denied due to simple mistakes made during filing that can be avoided. Reasons for denied claims include:

  • Lack of evidence, diagnosis, or severity. Your claim may be denied if you lack evidence that supports your disability diagnosis. The VA may also deny your claim if they can’t access the medical records they need to make an informed decision on your claim.
  • Missed deadlines. You must follow and be mindful of all important deadlines the VA has in place for filing a claim. If you miss a deadline, or you don’t respond to mailed letters or requests for evidence or information by the VA, your claim may be denied.
  • Missed exams. Sometimes the VA will schedule exams to confirm your disability and medical condition. It’s your responsibility to attend these mandatory exams and be aware of any re-scheduling. If you fail to show, the VA can deny your claim.
  • Non-service-related disability. Your medical condition must be connected to an in-service injury or event. If it was pre-existing, that may not be enough to prove that it is service-connected.

Your veteran’s disability claim may be denied for one of these reasons, but you have options to appeal your claim.

What to Do If Your VA Claim Is Denied

In most situations, you have one year from the date on your decision letter to start an appeal for a denied claim. If your VA decision was dated on or after February 19, 2019, you have three review options to choose from:

  • Supplemental Claim
  • Higher-Level Review
  • Board Appeal

If you’re unhappy with the results of the first option you choose, you can try another one of the options afterward.

Supplemental Claim

When you file a Supplemental Claim, you’re asking the VA to review new evidence, such as medical records, that’s relevant to your case. They’ll determine whether this new evidence changes their decision. New evidence must be included in order for the VA to review your case. This process takes about 4 to 5 months.

If you don’t agree with the Supplemental Claim decision, you can request a Higher-Level Review or file for a Board Appeal. You can also file another Supplemental Claim with new and additional evidence.

Higher-Level Review

If you don’t have new evidence to submit to the VA, you may choose a Higher-Level Review. This involves having a senior reviewer take a look at your case and decide whether the decision can be changed. You won’t need to submit new evidence with this option, but you’ll have the option to speak to a senior reviewer over the phone during an informal conference. The Higher-Level Review process takes about 4 to 5 months.

If you don’t agree with the Higher-Level Review decision, you can file for a Board Appeal or a Supplemental Claim.

Board Appeal

When you request a Board Appeal, you’re asking a Veterans Law Judge at the Board of Veterans’ Appeals to review your case. You have three options when you choose a Board Appeal for your denied claim:

  • Request a Direct Review. A Veterans Law Judge will review your appeal based on the evidence you’ve already submitted. No new evidence is permitted, and there will not be a hearing. This process takes about one year to complete.
  • Submit more evidence. You can submit new evidence for the Veterans Law Judge to review. Evidence must be submitted within 90 days of the date the VA receives your request for a Board Appeal. This takes more than one year to complete.
  • Request a hearing. You can request a hearing with a Veterans Law Judge, where you may add new and relevant evidence for your case. You may choose a virtual hearing from your home, a video hearing at a nearby VA location, or an in-person hearing in Washington, D.C. This takes more than one year to complete.

If you’re not happy with the results of your Board Appeal, you can file a Supplemental Claim. You may also appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims.

Appeal Your VA Denial with an Attorney’s Help

You’re not legally required to have an attorney apply for benefits or appeal a denied claim on your behalf, but a veterans disability attorney can help a great deal. An experienced disability lawyer can help you gather and submit new evidence, ensure you meet important deadlines, and improve your chances for a satisfactory appeal decision.

Let the Law Offices of Michael Hartup help you recover your disability benefits. Call our Jackson, Tennessee, office at 731-424-5559 to arrange a free consultation with a disability attorney.

You may also contact us by filling out an online form, or like our Facebook page for more disability resources.