Why Professional Advocacy is the Veteran’s Best Option

Did You Know?

According to the Board of Veterans' Appeals Annual Report Fiscal Year (FY) 2017, veterans waited an average of three years for VA to resolve an appeal.  If their appeal was resolved by the Board of Veterans' Appeals (BVA), they waited an average of seven years for an appeal to wind its way to resolution.  No question, the length of time it takes to appeal an unfavorable VA decision has grown in recent years.  If BVA does not resolve an appeal favorably, a veteran may choose to appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims (CAVC) where, depending on the complexity of the case, a veteran could wait as much as another year or more for a decision. All said, if a claim for VA benefits is denied, a veteran can spend 10 years or more waiting for resolution.

Veterans who pursue their appeals for VA benefits without professional representation are at a severe disadvantage, because VA laws and regulations are complex, convoluted, and under constant change. For example, in August 2017, Congress passed the Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act, P.L. 115-55. As a result, as early as February 2019, the entire appeals process will change. NOVA is actively educating its members on what these changes mean and how to assist veterans in this new process.  
 

Success Rates Improve with Professional Advocacy

Veterans have many options and agencies to help assist and represent them in securing their claims. However, veterans represented by attorneys have the lowest denial rate in front of the BVA, at 13.79 percent, well below the average 21.59 percent denial rate, according to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals Annual Report Fiscal Year (FY) 2017.

Veterans with attorney representation before the BVA also have the highest rate of allowances, at 39.49 percent, compared with the average of 29.94 percent. Veterans who are represented by claims agents also have a high success rate at 33.63 percent.

 

What Professional Advocacy Means to You

  • Your attorney or non-attorney practitioner advocates zealously on your behalf, answers your claim-related questions in a timely manner, and helps you understand (and obtain) the evidence needed to support your claim.
  • Your advocate analyzes your entire VA claim history and assesses the best and most efficient path to getting you ALL of the benefits you deserve – both those you know about AND those you don’t.
  • Your advocate assists you in providing sworn testimony at a hearing at the local VARO level or before a BVA Veterans Law Judge (VLJ).
     

The Law Gives Vets and Their Attorneys Tools to Contest

  • Robinson v. Shinseki holds a veteran who appeals while represented by an attorney must be treated the same way by the BVA as a veteran without an attorney.
  • Gambill v. Shinseki holds a veteran may submit written questions to the VA’s physicians to obtain information about their findings and assessments.
  • Stefl v. Nicholson holds VA medical examiners must consider presumptive and direct theories of service connection.

The process, while complex, is sympathetic to claimants, meaning that VA must read claims and appeals in the broadest way possible to ensure that veterans receive the most benefits to which they are entitled. Veterans with attorneys who have extensive knowledge of the claims and appeals process are the best suited to take advantage of this sympathetic environment.

Lastly, BVA uses attorneys to consider every appeal: it makes sense for a veteran to be on equal footing when their appeal reaches this important level of review.