VA Disability: What to Do If You Are Denied Benefits

Many first-time applications for VA benefits are denied. So if your initial application for benefits is turned down, know that you’re not alone. Don’t be discouraged and, if you believe you have a legitimate claim for disability benefits, don’t give up.

When Applying for VA Disability Benefits, You Have Rights!

  • You have the right to appeal an initial denial of benefits.
  • You have the right to appeal if you believe your disability is more severe than the VA says it is.
  • You have the right to have an attorney be your representative and advocate at the appeals level.

The Board of Veterans’ Appeals (BVA) is a part of the Department of Veterans Affairs and its members review and make decisions on appeals for VA benefits.

How the VA Appeals Process Works

To start the appeals process you or your attorney have to file a Notice of Disagreement (NOD) with the VA. Keep in mind there is a time limit for filing a NOD. You must send your NOD within one year of the date the VA mailed its decision which denied your claim. There is not a specific VA form for a NOD, so we recommend using VA Form 21-4138, (Statement in Support of Claim) to file your NOD.

You may be tempted in the NOD to argue your reasons why you think you were unfairly denied benefits or your disability was incorrectly rated. Don’t do it. Keep your NOD general in order to preserve your right to appeal all of the errors in the VA’s decision denying your benefits. If you get into specifics and then at some later time raise some issue overlooked in your NOD, you may have to start all over by filing a new claim.

You will have a choice of whether to have your appeal heard by decision review officer (DRO) at your regional office (Lincoln for Nebraskans and Des Moines for Iowans) or to have your appeal heard by the Board of Veterans Appeals (BVA) in Washington, D.C.

We believe having your case heard by a decision review officer is the better option. With a DRO you will likely get a quicker decision. Also if a DRO denies your appeal, you can still appeal to BVA; you have an extra chance to get an unfavorable decision changed.


Editor’s Note: This article is excerpted from the book “The Essential Guide to VA Disability Claims”. If you'd like to learn more, download your free copy here!

Sean D. Cuddigan
SSA and VA Disability Attorney in Omaha, Nebraska
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