If you’re a veteran returning home from military service with a service-connected illness, disease, or condition, you will likely apply for disability benefits from the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). However, it’s also likely that your initial claim will be denied. First-time applicants see a high percentage of denial because they’re often unsure about the type of information and facts the VA needs to award benefits. Because the VA application process can be complicated and requires that you provide sufficient medical evidence for the VA to make a determination in your favor, you may wait a long time to get your decision, and you may receive a denial.
If your claim is denied, that doesn’t mean you’re not eligible for benefits or that you’ll never receive them. Research shows that some Veterans Affairs Regional Offices (VARO) have denied over 70 percent of their claims due to simple administrative processing errors. Because the VA can make mistakes that affect your claim, you may want to hire an attorney who is skilled and experienced in the VA application and appeal process. Having a disability lawyer working with you may help overturn the VA’s decision on appeal.
Filing an Appeal
If the regional office denies your initial claim, you can appeal the decision up to one year from the date on the denial letter. To file your appeal with the VARO that sent you a letter of denial, you need to submit a Notice of Disagreement (NOD). Because there is no specific NOD form, you can use the Statement in Support of Claim form. Here are some important tips when submitting this form:
Tell the VA that you disagree with the denial decision.
Keep your comments general.
Don’t list all the reasons for why you disagree, as this may not help your appeal.
Tell the VA that you’re going to appeal the decision.
Cite the date on the denial letter.
Use the words Notice of Disagreement, and be sure these words are visible on the form.
Cite details only if you mention that your disagreement is not limited to just these specific issues. Be sure to state that you disagree with the rating and all the decisions made in the letter.
Sign your NOD and keep a copy.
Send your NOD via certified mail to the VARO that sent you the letter. This will prove that you met the deadline for filing.
Common VA Errors You Can Appeal
When the VA makes mistakes determining award benefits, it may happen because the agency hasn’t accurately analyzed the facts of a case, or often it doesn’t have the necessary, proper evidence. Typically, denials result from:
- Insufficient medical evidence to support the disability
- Insufficient evidence proving that the disability is service-connected
- Agreement that your condition is service-related, but the VA assigns a rating too low for your symptoms
- Determination that your disability was a pre-existing condition, but your military service did not aggravate it
If you can provide adequate documentation to refute these results, denials such as these have a high chance of reversal on appeal.
Additionally, if the VA fails to notify you of the needed, required evidence for your claim, you can use this in your appeal. For example, after you apply for benefits, the VA must tell you the evidence you need and explain the type of information, medical reports, and facts you must gather to prove your claim. If you didn’t receive this notification from the VA and can show that it negatively impacted your case in some way, it can be a basis for appeal. You’ll need to show that you would have provided certain evidence that may have been helpful in your claim had you known the VA needed it.
It’s best, however, to address these issues in your initial application by gathering all of your military and medical records and having a medical opinion supporting your claim of a service-connected disability. Ensuring that you have these documents for your initial application can better your chance of receiving an approved claim.
We Can Help
If your service-connected disability claim was denied and you want to appeal, or you’re submitting your first claim and want help to ensure you provide all the necessary documentation, contact Cuddigan Law at (402) 933-5405. We can help you with your application or appeal to ensure the best possible outcome. Call us to schedule an initial evaluation to discuss your specific situation.