What Can I Do When the VA Denies Benefits?
There are generally no lawsuits against the VA over benefits because a process exists to appeal. If you think your claim has been unlawfully or unfairly denied, you can work with or without a lawyer to appeal through one or more of the following channels:
- Supplemental Claim. File a Supplemental Claim if you have new evidence that could change the review and decision regarding your benefits claim.
- Higher-Level Review. If you believe your denial was incorrect but have no new evidence, you can request a more senior reviewer to look over your claim.
- Board of Veterans Appeals. If you try one or both of the above for a denial of benefits and still receive a denial, you can take this next step and request an appeal with a Veterans Law Judge.
While a lawyer is not required for appeals, it’s a good idea to work with an experienced military and veteran benefits lawyer. They know what you need to prove your claim and have the resources to get the evidence.
How Do I Appeal a Denial of Veteran Benefits?
Filing an appeal can be a lengthy and confusing process. It helps to have a lawyer on your side to make sure you have the right evidence, that you file on time, and that you don’t miss any steps or make mistakes that could result in a final denial. There are several steps in the appeal process:
- The first step is to file a Notice of Disagreement, which notifies the VA that you disagree with the denial of benefits. This should be general and does not list the reasons you disagree. The Notice goes to the same regional VA office that issued your denial letter.
- Next, you’ll choose the type of appeal you want to make. If you want to choose the Board of Veterans Appeals, you must wait for the VA to approve it with a Statement of the Case. This can take a long time.
- If you choose one of the other types of appeal, the VA will request more information. This is where your lawyer helps determine what you need to provide for the best chance of approval.
- If you go with the Board of Appeals, you’ll wait for the Statement of the Case. You’ll then have 60 days to file the appeal, which, again, is best done with a lawyer. The reply can take months but will give you instructions for following through with the appeal with the Board and getting a final decision.
When Should I Make an Appeal?
It’s important to stay on top of your claims process because there is a time limit on filing an appeal. The VA gives you one year to file, beginning at the time you receive the letter informing you of the denial of benefits.
The Most Common Reasons Veteran Benefits Are Denied
To avoid a denial of benefits and the appeals process, it helps to know why the VA rejects claims. A military and veteran benefits lawyer knows what the VA needs to see and has the resources to prove your claim is valid. Work with a lawyer from the start for the best chance of getting your benefits on the first try. Some of the most common reasons the VA denies benefit claims are:
- Inadequate information
- Missed deadlines
- The disability is non-service related or pre-existing
- The symptoms are not severe enough to warrant a disability rating
- Wrong forms were submitted
Military and Veteran Benefits Lawsuits – Class Actions
Only in recent years have veterans been allowed to file class action lawsuits against the VA. A class action is a lawsuit filed by one or a few plaintiffs representing many more. A federal court ruled in 2018 that veterans could begin class actions against the VA.
The case triggering the decision, Godsey v. Wilkie, involved a group of veterans facing long wait times for their benefits appeals. Four veterans initially began the suit in 2017, but their lawyers argued it should include thousands more veterans and be certified as a class action. The federal court agreed. The veterans had been waiting 18 months or more for answers to their appeals.
- Kennedy v. McCarthy
This case charged that the U.S. Military with unlawful dishonorable discharges. Without an honorable discharge, veterans cannot access benefits. The lawyers argued that veterans suffered service-related mental health disorders that should have been taken into account when the military reviewed their discharges.
- Wolf v. Wilkie
In this class action, the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims ruled that the VA unlawfully regulated reimbursements for veterans. The Emergency Care Fairness Act states that the VA must reimburse veterans for the emergency care they receive at non-VA facilities. The court ordered the VA to issue the reimbursements.
- Sabo v. the United States
In this case, the lawyers argued that the military denied benefits to veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan diagnosed with PTSD. The VA should give them a disability rating of 50% at a minimum. The veterans in the case were denied this rating and benefits.
- Nehmer vs. VA
This case helped veterans of the Vietnam War receive benefits for exposure to Agent Orange. So far, it has resulted in more than $4.6 billion in benefits paid to veterans, and their survivors previously denied compensation.
Contact an experienced veterans lawyer to help you appeal a claim denial or if you believe you have a class action lawsuit against the military or the VA. The government owes veterans and military service members certain benefits, and when those are unlawfully denied, you have a right to try to remedy it.