To ensure that your appeal to the VA is handled smoothly follow the step-by-step instructions below for submitting an appeal.
Step 1: The first step in the appeal process is for a claimant to file a written appeal with the local VA regional office or medical center that made the decision. This is not a special form; it is simply your written statement that you disagree with your local VA office's claim determination, and you want to appeal it. Submit your appeal to the same local VA office that issued the decision you are appealing. If you have moved and your claims file is now maintained at a local VA office other than the one where you previously filed you claim,
submit your appeal to the new location. If you have received notice of determinations on more than one claim issue, be specific about which issue or issues you are appealing. For example, if your local VA office made claim decisions on your pension and a medical payment, but you only want to appeal the decision on your medical payment, be sure to note that.
Note: You may have the option elect a Decision Review Officer (DRO) instead of the traditional full board of appeals review. In most "clear error of omission" cases, the DRO process tends to save time and processing for both the you and the VA. This is an informal appellate process within the regional office. The DRO has the authority to reverse or modify a VA rating board decision. It is recommended that you seek DRO review before you request a Board of Veterans Appeals (BVA) appeal. The DRO process is frequently successful and is generally faster than going straight to the BVA. If you do not receive a better decision from the DRO, you can still appeal to the BVA.
Step 2: After receiving the appeal, the VA will mail the claimant a Statement of the Case describing what facts, laws and regulations were used in deciding the case. A VA Form 9 (Appeal to the Board of Veterans Appeals) will be included with the Statement of the Case. If you wish to continue your appeal, you must complete and submit the VA Form 9 within 60 days of the mailing of the Statement of the Case, or within one year from the date the VA mailed its decision, whichever is later. Send your VA Form 9 to the local VA office handling your case; the office will file this and all related information in a claims folder, and will eventually forward it to the Board of Veterans Appeals for review. On VA Form 9, make sure you clearly state the benefit you want and point out any mistakes you think the VA has made in its decision. If you submit new information or evidence with your VA Form 9, your local VA office, and it will prepare a Supplemental Statement of the Case (SSOC). If you are not satisfied with the SSOC, you have 60 days from the date the SSOC was mailed to submit, in writing, what you disagree with. Usually, step 2 is all the paperwork you will need to send to your VA office. The one major exception is if you receive a SSOC covering a new issue. In this case, you must complete a supplemental VA Form 9 covering the new issue if you want to appeal it. For example, if you are appealing a pension ruling, and before the pension ruling is resolved, you appeal a medical payment ruling and receive an SSOC on the medical payment decision, you must send your VA office a VA Form 9 on the medical payment appeal. It is possible to get an extension for the 60-day window you have to submit your VA Form 9 or respond to the SSOC. Simply write to your local VA office handling your appeal and explain why you need extra time to file.
Step 3: You can represent yourself in your appeal if you wish, but most people who appeal obtain representation. You can choose to be represented by a Veteran's Service Organization (VSO) such as the American Legion, DAV, VFW, etc. or your state's veterans department. Most VSOs have trained personnel who specialize in providing help with claims and appeals. Your local VA office can provide a list of approved veterans appeal representatives in your area. You can also be represented by a private lawyer or recognized agent. If you want representation, fill out a VA Form 21-22 to authorize a VSO to represent you, or use VA Form 22a to authorize an attorney or recognized agent to represent you.
Step 4: Once you have filed your appeal with your local VA office, it will be forwarded to the BVA. Your VA office will send you a letter when they receive your claims folder. You have 90 days from the mailing date of this letter, or when the Board decides your case (whichever comes first), to add more evidence to your file, request a hearing or select/change your representative. If you need to submit any of these items after the 90 days are up, you must submit a written request to the Board, with an explanation for why the item(s) are late. Until your file is transferred to the Board, your local VA office is the best place to get information about your appeal. After your file has been transferred, you can call (202) 565-5436 to check on its status. The Board processes appeals files in the order received. It will assign your case a docket number. For example, if your appeal was the very first appeal to be reviewed in the year 1999, it would have docket number 99-00001. Thus, the larger your docket number, the longer you may have to wait for your case to be reviewed. On average, you may have to wait two or more years after you file your appeal for the Board to pass a final decision on your case. Complex cases may take longer. If you want your appeal to be reviewed sooner, you can try writing directly to the Board and explain the reasons why you need a quicker ruling. Write to this address:
Board of Veterans' Appeals (014),
Department of Veterans Affairs,
810 Vermont Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20420.
You will need "convincing proof of exceptional circumstances", which includes situations such as terminal illness, danger of bankruptcy or foreclosure, or an error by the VA that caused a significant delay in the docketing of your appeal. Be sure to provide evidence (i.e., bankruptcy notices) if you have it.
Step 5: If you wish, you can also have a personal hearing. A personal hearing is a meeting between you (and your legal representative, if you have one) and a VA official who will decide your case. During this meeting, you present testimony and other evidence supporting your case. There are two types of personal hearings: local office hearings and BVA hearings.
-- A local office hearing is held at your local VA office between you and a "hearing officer" from the local office's staff. To arrange a local office hearing, you should contact your local VA office or your appeal representative as early in the appeal process as possible.
-- In addition to a local office hearing, you have the right to present your case in person to a member of the Board of Veterans' Appeals (a BVA hearing). In most parts of the U.S., you can choose whether to hold this hearing at your local VA office, or at the BVA office in Washington, DC (but not both). To request a BVA hearing, check the appropriate box on VA Form 9.
If you have already submitted your VA Form 9 without checking the box, you can request a hearing by writing directly to the Board of Veterans' Appeals within 90 days. Be sure you clearly state whether you want the hearing held at your local VA office or in Washington. Note that the BVA cannot pay for any expenses — such as lodging or travel — in connection with a hearing. Basically, to testify at a BVA hearing just means to tell what you know about your case. VA hearings are much more informal than court hearings, so you don't need to worry about technical rules of evidence or being cross-examined when you testify. Some local offices offer video teleconferencing, so you can have your BVA hearing at your local office while the BVA member talks to you from Washington. Check with your local VA office to see if it offers this option. Be aware that a personal hearing may take some time to arrange. Most BVA hearings are held about three months before the case is actually reviewed by the Board.
Step 6: The Board will notify you when it receives your appeal from the local VA office. When the docket number for your appeal is reached, your file will be examined by a Board member and a staff attorney who will check it for completeness, and review all the evidence, your arguments, personal hearing transcripts (if any), the statement of your representative (if you have one) and any other information. Once a decision has been reached, the Board will notify you in writing. Your decision will be mailed to your home address, so it is extremely important you keep the VA informed of your current address. If the claimant dies before the Board makes a final decision, the Board normally dismisses the appeal without issuing a decision. The rights of the deceased claimant's survivors are not affected by this action. Survivors may still file a claim at the local VA office for any benefits to which they may be entitled. Sometimes the Board will remand an appeal, which means it returns the case to your local VA office with instructions for additional work to be done. Remands may occur because of changes in the law, or if you do (or don't do) certain things. After your local VA office performs whatever additional work is necessary, it will review your case and issue a new decision. If its original ruling still holds, it will send the case back to the Board for a final decision. The case keeps its original place on the Board's docket, so it will be reviewed soon after the Board receives it.
Step 7: If you disagree with the Board's final ruling, you can appeal to the U.S. Court of Veterans Appeals for Veterans Claims. Normally, you must file a Notice of Appeal with the Court within 120 days from the date the Board's decision is mailed to you. To get more information about the Notice of Appeal, methods for filing with the Court, Court filing fees and other related matters, you can call the Court at 1-800-869-8654 or write:
United States Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims
625 Indiana Ave NW, Suite 900
Washington, DC 20004
Telephone: (202) 501-5970
If you appeal to the Court, you should also file a copy of the Notice of Appeal with the VA General Counsel at the following address:
Office of the General Counsel (027), Department of Veterans Affairs
810 Vermont Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20420
There are other ways to challenge the Board's decision:
a. Motion for Reconsideration — If you can prove that the Board made an obvious error of fact or law in its decision, you can file a written motion for reconsideration. If you have a representative, you should consult with him/her about whether you should file a motion.
b. Reopening the Case — If you have new evidence, you can request that your case be re-opened. To be considered, the evidence you submit must include information related to your case that was not included in your claims folder when the Board decided your case. To re-open your case, you need to submit your evidence directly to your local VA office.
c. CUE Motion — A Board decision can be reversed or revised if you can prove that the decision contained "clear and unmistakable error" (CUE). Because CUE is a very complicated area of law, you should ask your representative for advice before you decide to file a CUE motion. You can file a CUE motion at any time, but if you file it after filing a Notice of Appeal with the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, the Board cannot rule on your CUE motion. CUE motions should be filed directly with the Board, and not your local VA office.
[Source: www.military.com/benefits/legal-matters/appeals-process/appeals-process-overview Nov 2010 ++]