The U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims (CAVC) has unique statutory authority. Unlike any other federal appellate court, individual judges – not panels of judges – can decide Veterans’ appeals. This means, unlike any other set of citizens in the land, Veterans are singled out for discriminatory treatment by the one court which reviews decisions made by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
Let’s say your claim is denied – or your disability rating is not accurately assessed. What happens next? You file a “Notice of Disagreement.” And go through VA’s review process again. If your claims are still denied (or not properly assessed), you appeal to the Board of Veterans Appeals. And, if you have to, you ultimately appeal to the CAVC.
This is where the problems with VA’s claims adjudication system are starkly revealed. Unlike other citizens who are entitled to legal review by a panel of judges, Veterans are stuck with the opinions of one judge. This one-judge, dollar-store-justice approach significantly prejudices Veterans. How? One judge gets to decide important, tricky cases all alone. Opinions by one judge generally aren’t considered “precedential” – so VA can ignore them. And, since every human being has their own world-view, a one-judge decision means you can get really lucky…or really you-know-what. Sadly, most Veterans receive the “you-know-what” treatment.
The entire claims-review system is stacked against Veterans. Let’s go over just the initial part of the process as an example. What happens after you file a benefits claim with VA? There are eight separate steps – each of which can take a very long time – before your claim even gets out of VA’s examining corps. The eight examination steps are:
Step 1. Claim Received
If you apply online through VA’s eBenefits portal, you could see receipt in your list of Open Claims within one hour. If you apply through the U.S. mail it will take VA longer to process and record receipt of your claim.
Step 2. Under Review
Your claim is assigned to a Veterans Service Representative (VSR). The VSR may work with a Rating Veterans Service Representative (RVSR). There are no mandatory education or licensing requirements to be either a VSR or RVSR.
VA explains that VSRs develop as they work on files, eventually learning how to use VA computer applications to perform routine tasks, organize administrative files, and use VA’s Medical Electronic Performance Support System to determine the appropriate exam to request. This means that – through no fault of their own – VSRs don’t necessarily have any experience with or understanding of the factors that can and should be considered when assessing your disability claim. VSRs are often the most junior VA employees, with pay starting at the GS-3 level. (For much of the United States, a GS-3 salary starts at $25,434.)
Step 3. Gathering of Evidence
The Veterans Service Representative requests evidence from required sources. Requests for evidence may be made of you, a medical professional, a government agency, or another authority. NOTE: VA often sends you back to this step, claiming that additional evidence is necessary.
Step 4. Review of Evidence
VA has its evidence. However, even with all this information, VA may determine that more evidence is required and send your claim back to Step 3. Endless loop.
Step 5. Preparation for Decision
The Veterans Service Representative recommends a decision and prepares required documents detailing that decision. If more evidence is required, your claim will be sent back to Step 3 for more information or evidence. More endless loop.
Step 6. Pending Decision Approval
The recommended decision is reviewed and a final award approval is made. If VA determines more evidence or information is required, the claim will be sent back in the process for more information or evidence. Endless loop, endless loop.
Step 7. Preparation for Notification
Your entire claim decision packet is prepared for mailing.
Step 8. “Complete”
VA sends you its decision packet U.S. mail. The packet includes details of the decision or award.
You can see there’s really only one stage. It should be called “Reviewing the Application.” But, bureaucracy calls for more steps.
It is so difficult to get to Step 8 that most Veterans are exhausted. Very few have the strength to file a “Notice of Disagreement” (NOD). But, don’t give up! If your claims have been denied, get assistance with that NOD. Don’t take “No” as an acceptable answer from VA. Know your rights and demand the benefits you have earned with your service and sacrifice.
Public Law 109-461 allows Veterans to hire attorneys to appeal VA benefits rulings. The Law Office of Robert B. Goss, P.C. is one of the few VA-accredited Veteran attorney firms in the United States. Contact https://www.attorneyforveterans.com/contact-us.html today for your FREE consultation.