Strengthening Your VA Disability AppealUpdated April 11, 2020 Veterans Disability
Learn what to address in your VA disability appeal, the best evidence to include, how to be sure the VA applied the correct rating, and other important filing details.
You can appeal your VA disability decision for any reason, within one year. Three common points of appeal are:
- dispute over the existence of a disability;
- whether the disability was connected to your military service, or
- the level of disability.
What to include in your appeal
Consider carefully the reason for the denial or disagreement and target your appeal to include as much evidence as you can on that issue. If you agree with part of the VA’s decision, there’s no need to go over those issues again. Be specific about what it is you disagree with.
Think about the best kind of evidence to address the VA’s denial or concerns. For example, if the VA acknowledges your disability but disputes that it was connected to your military service, seek out a medical opinion showing the connection. Or, you may need what are called “buddy statements” from fellow veterans who served with you who can document your experience.
If the dispute is over whether you have a disability, consider additional evidence that can be persuasive. This might include new details of your treatment since the initial application. Request the actual treatment records from your doctors, if they weren’t submitted with your original claim. Actual treatment records can provide more powerful evidence than a doctor’s summary of your condition.
If you want to challenge the rating assigned to your VA disability, we suggest that you secure your medical treatment records and copies of any doctors’ reports. If you believe the reports don’t describe your condition accurately, you can request a re-exam if it was a VA doctor. You can also be evaluated by a private doctor and use that doctor’s report as the basis for requesting a re-exam.
You may also want to consult the published Schedule for Rating Disabilities to clarify whether the VA applied the correct rating to your stated medical condition.
Always be sure to include any evidence requested by the VA. The VA recommends including as much detail as possible. For example, for any doctors that treated your condition, include their names, the date of treatment, and full contact information.
You can request that your local VA office review additional evidence first. If, after reviewing the evidence, they still don’t allow your claim – you can then appeal to the Board of Appeals.
Be aware that if you want new evidence sent directly to the Board without your local VA office seeing it, you need to specify that you waive the option of having it sent first to the local office. If you don’t specify this, the new evidence may get sent back to your local office and cause further delays.
Keep in mind that the appeal process is only for addressing the decision on your recent VA disability claim. This is not the venue to introduce evidence about brand new disability claims.
Do file both your notice of appeal (Notice of Disagreement) and VA Form 9 (Substantive Appeal Form) as soon as you can. The VA is already having a problem with backlogs in resolving claims and appeals, so it’s in your interest to reduce any delays on your end.
Most people hire a disability attorney
A study by the Institute for Defense Analysis found that veterans who applied without any help were less likely to have their VA disability claims approved. While you can apply and appeal on your own, most experts recommend against it.
The VA requires a lot of technical, detailed information to document your disability, its relation to your service, and your disability rating. The ability to provide all of the information the VA requires, in a timely manner, can speed up the handling of your claim and appeal, and may make the difference between acceptance and denial.
You may hire a lawyer or agent to represent you. In certain cases, the help they can provide may be well worth it to you.
Get an Independent Medical Evaluation to Support Your VA Appeal
When the VA Compensation and Pension Exam underrates your disability, find out why you should seek an independent medical exam and have that doctor fill out the Disability Benefit Questionnaire.
Dear Benefits Advisor,
I’m currently appealing a decision based off my C&P exam for an increase. I asked for an increase on my left knee that is service connected and is rated at 10%.My left knee buckles and gives out twice a month, it pops every time I walk and has daily pain around the knee.During that C&P exam she also checked my right dominant hand for an increase. My right wrist cannot support heavy objects, my hand and fingers get numb every day, but the X-Rays that they had me take aren’t showing there’s a problem.During the exam I was upset how the VA doctor was handling the exam, for my left knee and my right wrist she was forcing both of them to a certain degree on her measuring device as I was telling her that it was very painful and hurting. She wasn’t responding to my verbal pain and discomfort at all, so that’s why I think my rating stayed the same. My question is that I’m currently in the appeal process. How do I win my appeal for my left knee and my right wrist that is in pain every day?
This will require an expert opinion from a private physician or board-certified specialist (not employed by the VA) that the current condition is probably or is definitely a result of that incident incurred in the service. If you rely entirely on the VA to help you establish this service connection, you have a higher probability of losing your case.
If you do not provide this evidence, the VA will either try to deduce from your other no-medical evidence that it is service connected, or the VA may more likely order a Compensation and Pension (C&P) examination with a request that the examiner offer an expert opinion on the service connection.
Most C&P exams do not result in a persuasive diagnosis or evaluation to support the medical disability a veteran is attempting to prove. One needs to pay for an independent medical evaluation. That evaluation must be extensive and thorough and define the specifics of your contention of a disability and the degree of your disability, if so diagnosed. It is helpful to have the physician complete the VA’s Disability Benefit Questionnaire (DBQ) for your medical condition. There are more than seventy DBQ forms. The DBQ appropriate for your medical condition can be found on the VA’s website by searching by topic or by the name of your medical condition.