February 19, 2019 marked a significant change in the way the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) appeals process operates due to the implementation of the VA Appeals Modernization Act. If you disagree with a decision after this date, you have three decision review options: a Supplemental Claim, Higher-Level Review, or Board Appeal. 

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Supplemental Claim

With a Supplemental Claim, you must provide additional evidence to your case. You can gather the new evidence for your Supplemental Claim on your own, or you can request assistance from the VA in locating the appropriate records. This evidence must be:

  • Evidence the VA didn’t have access to at the time of the original decision
  • Relevant evidence that could either prove or disprove an argument

A Supplemental Claim is the best option when you’ve tried a new treatment, undergone additional diagnostic tests, or consulted different healthcare providers about your condition. It would also be appropriate if you learned of new evidence after you submitted your original claim or if you simply forgot to include relevant information with your initial claim.

To begin your Supplemental Claim, you should fill out the Decision Review Request: Supplemental Claim (VA Form 20-0995). It generally takes four to five months to have the VA make decisions on a Supplemental Claim.

Higher-Level Review

If nothing has changed in your case and you have no new evidence, you should select a Higher-Level Review. Additionally, if you previously requested a Supplemental Claim and are not satisfied with the results, you can request a Higher-Level Review as the next stage in the process.

This Higher-Level Review involves having a senior-level reviewer take a look at your case to determine whether the decision should be changed based on an error or incorrect interpretation of the law. This is sometimes called a de-novo review.

In a Higher-Level Review, no new evidence can be considered. However, you can schedule a call with the senior reviewer to discuss why you think the decision should be changed and to identify errors that have been made.

To begin your Higher-Level Review, fill out the Decision Review Request: Higher-Level Review (VA Form 20-0996). As with a Supplemental Claim, it generally takes four to five months for the VA to make a decision on a Higher-Level Review.

Board Appeal

When you request this option, you’re asking for a review of your case by a Veterans Law Judge at the Board of Veterans' Appeals (BVA) in Washington, D.C. There are three options for a BVA hearing:

  • Direct review with no additional evidence submitted
  • Review completed after additional evidence has been submitted
  • In-person, virtual, or videoconference hearing with the option to add additional evidence

You can request a Board Appeal after an initial claim, Supplemental Claim, or Higher-Level Review. You should submit the Decision Review Request: Board Appeal (VA Form 10182) to begin the process.

The time to complete a Board Appeal varies widely but takes considerably longer than a Supplemental Claim or a Higher-Level Review. The direct review with no new evidence will take about one year to complete, but submitting new evidence or requesting a hearing will generally take more than one year.

The Value of Legal Representation

The VA’s appeals process is complex, and many claims are denied due to simple paperwork errors or evidence omissions. Working with an experienced attorney is the best way to increase your chances of a successful appeal. In 2020, 40.9% of appeals were approved with a lawyer, but only 26.2% of appeals were approved with no representative.

An experienced attorney can evaluate the strength of your claim, gather the relevant evidence, and review your file to ensure the VA hasn’t made any errors in its decision. Your attorney can also ensure that key deadlines are met and irrelevant information isn’t used to slow down the appeals process.

Do You Need to Speak With a Veterans Benefits Lawyer?

If you need to speak with an experienced veterans benefits lawyer, please contact us online, or call our Virginia Beach office 757.490.3500 to schedule your free consultation. We have offices throughout Virginia, including ChesapeakeNewport NewsNorfolk, and Suffolk.