News

VA Disability Appeal Process – Choosing the Best Option for Your Claim (Higher-Level Review)

May 4, 2021

 

One of the biggest challenges veterans face when applying for disability compensation is choosing the best appeal option under the new VA decision review process. There are three review options to choose from:

  1. Supplemental Claim
  2. Higher-Level Review
  3. Board Appeal

In this article, VA Attorney Matthew Brown will be covering the Higher-Level Review appeal option and highlighting all the important information you should know.

Higher-Level Review

When choosing the Higher-Level Review to appeal an unfavorable VA decision, there are important distinctions to remember, such as knowing you are prevented from submitting any new evidence in support of your appeal. This can include medical records, medical nexus opinions, and supporting lay statements.

A higher-level review is considered a de novo review of your claim – this means a VA adjudicator will give no deference to the prior decision, except with respect to favorable findings. Let’s use a very common example to illustrate the point. Here, we have John, a veteran who is applying for entitlement to service connection for hearing loss. John served in the Air Force and worked as an aircraft mechanic during active service. He believes his hearing loss is related to the hazardous noise exposure from working the flight line. He applies for disability compensation and provides a private medical opinion that his hearing loss is related to service. 

However, VA procures their own medical opinion stating his hearing loss is not related to service and proceeds to deny his claim on the basis their own examiner’s opinion is more persuasive than John’s private treating source. Thereafter, John chooses to appeal this decision and files a request for a higher-level review. When contacted by the VA to discuss his appeal, John will be able to present either written or oral arguments as to why VA got the decision wrong and how the medical opinion he provided is more persuasive than the VA’s own examiner. Additionally, the adjudicator must consider all of the favorable evidence, regardless of the previous denial.   

What John will not be able to do is submit any new medical records, medical nexus opinions, supporting lay statements, regarding his hearing loss during this conference. This is an incredibly important distinction to remember as a higher-level review is your opportunity to talk directly to a VA adjudicator, explain your position, and inform them why the evidence of record supports your request and why the VA got it wrong. Generally, the VA has estimated that upon the filing of a request for a higher-level review will take approximately 4-5 months (or on average 125 days) to respond to a request and schedule the informal conference.

In summary, the VA Disability appeals process is increasingly complicated and frustrating. It’s important to consult with an attorney who has the experience to navigate the system on your behalf. Reach out to our team at Wolf & Brown Law Offices if you are in need of help.
Relevant pages: Veterans Disability

Categories: VA Disability

Author: Matthew Brown





Officials Say VA Benefits Backlog Only Fixed by Late 2022

June 11, 2021

Although backlogged disability claims for veterans have decreased by 10 percent in recent weeks, they will likely only return to pre-2020 levels by late 2022.

According to an article published by Military Times, “[Veterans officials] warned that number could grow again if Congress passes pending legislation granting new disability benefits to tens of thousands of veterans exposed to burn pits while serving overseas in the recent wars. As of this week, about 191,000 disability claims were considered backlogged, meaning they have been pending for four months or more. That’s down from a peak of about 210,000 cases earlier this spring, but still well above the roughly 70,000 backlogged cases in early 2020, before the coronavirus pandemic began.”

Relevant pages: Veterans Disability

Categories: VA Disability

Author: Wolf & Brown Law Offices





New Disability Benefits Plan Unveiled for Veterans with Toxic Exposure

May 26, 2021

This week, Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., released an extensive plan to extend disability benefits to all veterans who are affected by toxic exposure.

According to an article published by Stars and Stripes, “The legislation, titled the Comprehensive and Overdue Support for Troops of War Act of 2021, would create a fast track to Department of Veterans Affairs benefits for veterans who served overseas during the past 31 years and developed a respiratory illness or cancer. It would automatically grant eligibility for VA health care to about 3.5 million veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. In addition, it would reform the VA’s current process of handling claims of toxic exposure.”

Relevant pages: Veterans Disability

Categories: Veterans Disability News

Author: Michael Brown





Thousands of ‘Blue Water’ Navy Claims Reviewed for Retroactive Compensation

May 19, 2021

The VA is reviewing about 60,000 claims from Vietnam War veterans with service-related exposure to Agent Orange. Some of these cases could be eligible for retroactive compensation.

According to an article published by Stripes.com, “These former sailors served aboard ships in the open waters off the coast of Vietnam and have long contended they were exposed to chemical herbicides through the ships’ water systems. The dioxin-laden herbicides have been found to cause respiratory cancers, Parkinson’s disease and heart disease, as well as other conditions. Congress passed legislation in 2019 that entitled these veterans, known as “Blue Water” Navy veterans, to government benefits. The U.S. District Court of the Northern District of California decided in November that the VA must reevaluate claims from veterans who were rejected.”

Relevant pages: Veterans Disability

Categories: Veterans Disability News

Author: Matthew Brown





VA Warns Disability Claims Backlog Will Get Worse Before it Gets Better

May 14, 2021

Disability claims skyrocketed last year due to the constraints the pandemic placed on the complex disability claims process. Currently, there are more than 190,000 disability claims in VA’s backlog – the VA predicts that the backlog will increase and peak this summer, estimating around 225,000-to-240,000 pending claims by August.

According to an article published by Federal News Network, “Thomas Murphy, VBA’s acting undersecretary for benefits, told the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Wednesday afternoon. “Under a recent court order, VBA must re-adjudicate over 62,000 Blue Water Navy claims. These claims were added to the inventory in April. In addition, we’re about to begin processing claims for the three new Agent Orange presumptive conditions mandated by Congress of bladder cancer, Parkinsonism, and hypothyroidism. We’ve seen a slow decrease in the backlog over the last couple of months, but these new issues and a continued rollover of claims currently in inventory will see a short-term spike in the backlog this summer.” If all goes well, the disability claims backlog should drop to 140,000 by the end of this fiscal year and return to pre-pandemic levels of about 100,000 by the end of 2022, Murphy said.”

Relevant pages: Veterans Disability

Categories: VA Disability

Author: Michael Brown





Supreme Court Ruling Could Have Wide-Ranging Effects for SSDI Recipients

April 28, 2021

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) recipients recently won a Supreme Court ruling that could affect a wide range of related cases.

According to an article published by ThinkAdvisor.com, “The court ruled 9-0 Thursday, in Carr et al. v. Saul (Case Number 19-1442), that the claimants did not have to attack the constitutionality of the Social Security Administration administrative law judge system when they first filed their cases to have the right to base appeals based on that issue today. The Supreme Court ruled 6-3 in 2018, in connection with Lucia v. SEC, that the Securities and Exchange Commission had been using an unconstitutional process to appoint administrative law judges in 2018. Other federal agencies had been using similar processes to appoint their administrative law judges. The plaintiffs in the Carr case had started their SSDI claims before the Lucia ruling came out. Lawyers for the Social Security Administration said the disability claimants should have exhausted their remedies at the start of the case, by questioning the constitutionality of the Social Security Administration claim determination system, to have a right to file an appeal based on the Lucia ruling now.”

Relevant pages: Social Security Disability

Categories: Social Security Disability News

Author: Michael Brown





Congress Focuses on Expanding Health Care for Vets Affected by Toxic Exposure

April 27, 2021

Congress is reviewing a large roster of bills that could potentially provide much-needed health care to millions of veterans with service-related toxic exposure.

According to an article published by Military.com, “The debate over health care for victims of toxic exposure amounts to a legislative ultramarathon for advocates and lawmakers championing the issue, amid little mainstream media coverage and what will likely be sticker shock when the final price tag is tallied — something that could scare away lawmakers and sink ambitious measures. The Senate and House Veterans Affairs Committees are set to hold coordinated hearings on bills related to toxic exposure, the panels announced Tuesday. The Senate committee will have its hearing Wednesday; the House hearing will be held May 5.”

Relevant pages: Veterans Disability

Categories: VA Disability

Author: Michael Brown





New Legislation Introduced for Veterans Who Served in the Middle East, Africa, and the Philippines

April 9, 2021

This week, Rep. Elaine Luria, D-Norfolk introduced legislation to grant disability and health care benefits for veterans who served in the Middle East, Africa, and the Philippines. These vets have been struggling for years to get the benefits they are entitled to.

According to an article published by Daily Press, “It is the first legislation on toxic exposure benefits to include a comprehensive list of overseas locations that would qualify a veteran for benefits. It is also the first that sets out a comprehensive list of presumptive illnesses contracted as a result of airborne exposure to toxic substances.”

Relevant pages: Veterans Disability

Categories: Veterans Disability News

Author: Michael Brown





Disability Benefits Deadline for Gulf War Veterans to be Extended



Right now, the deadline for Gulf War veterans to apply for benefits for service-connected illnesses is December 31, 2021, however, VA officials have stated that they are working on an extension.

According to an article published by ConnectingVets.com, “The deadline has continued to be pushed back in recent years. In 2016, the deadline was pushed back to the end of 2021, the fifth time it had been extended. Now, VA officials say they’re working on another extension.” Teri McClelland, a Veterans Benefits Administration official, was quoted in an interview for the publication saying, “The purpose of the deadline was to allow additional time to study the conditions and their causes to better determine a fair and accurate presumptive period for the regulation based on scientific findings while not disadvantaging the claims of any veterans filed in the interim.”

Relevant pages: Veterans Disability

Categories: Veterans Disability News

Author: Wolf & Brown Law Offices





VA Disease Research Continues to Attempt to Prove Toxic Exposure for Sick Veterans

April 6, 2021

In an attempt to be proactive, disease researchers at the Department of Veterans Affairs began planning for war-related illnesses soon after 9/11.

According to an article published by Stripes.com, “[Chief] VA research officer Rachel Ramoni said the agency’s focus is two-pronged: to identify what made the veterans ill and to improve their health situation now…As the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks approaches, there’s been a growing momentum on Capitol Hill to provide remedy for veterans who became ill after serving overseas.”

Relevant pages: Veterans Disability

Categories: Veterans Disability News

Author: Michael Brown