U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Implements Decision Making Tool

Innovative Tool Leads to Record Number of Decisions

When a veteran is first denied VA benefits he/she is entitled to appeal part or all of the decision. Generally, the VA Regional Office takes at least 1 to 2 years to review the appeal and make a decision on whether the entire appeal or part of it should be granted.  However, if the veteran chooses to request a review from a Veterans Law Judge at the Board of Veterans Appeal (BVA), it could take up to 7 years to get a decision.

Recently the BVA created and implemented an interactive decision template. The announcement was made in May 2018 and as of July 2018 a record number of close to 65,000 decisions have been issued.  Prior to this tool, the decision-making template had not been updated in close to 40 years.

The primary changes to the template are a new format where the order and remand sections will be discussed first. The decisions also include hyperlinks and pertinent evidence used. The BVA hopes that this new format will not only shorten the lengthy wait times, but also allow veterans to more easily understand the decision.  This in conjunction with the newly implemented Rapid Appeals Modernization Program (RAMP) should result in veterans’ claims being heard more quickly and efficiently.

Veterans Benefits Administration Appeals Process

The template was created in an effort to reduce the time that veterans must wait to get a decision on their claims. In many cases the entire process can take several years.

The first step in the appeals process is filing a notice of disagreement (NOD), within 1 year of the date on the decision letter.  After the NOD is filed, a Decision Review Officer (DRO) will review the previously submitted materials and any new and material evidence that was submitted. If the DRO finds that they will not grant the appeal, they will send the veteran a “Statement of the Case”, and at this point the veteran can decide whether to continue to pursue the appeal to BVA. This new appeal to the BVA must be completed within 60 days.  The BVA judge will begin to work on the appeal when it is in the group of oldest appeals ready for review. This can take another several months to years. There are some instances where a veteran’s appeal can be moved along more quickly, such as if the person is in extreme financial distress or suffering from a serious illness. At this point the veteran is entitled to a hearing in front of he judge. Finally, the Board then reviews the appeal and issues an opinion. If the veteran is not satisfied with the result, he/she is entitled to appeal to the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, within 120 days of the Board’s ruling. As you can see, the entire process can be extremely lengthy and emotionally daunting.  The new tool seems to be solving the backlog problem with the hopes of increasing overall productivity and decisions.

If you or someone you know is a veteran living in Philadelphia and experiencing homelessness with a benefits issue, you should contact the Homeless Advocacy Project at 215-523-9595 to discuss possible advice or representation.

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