Veterans Disability Info Blog

How to Win a Claim That Has Been on Appeal for 20 Years

Imagine finally winning your VA appeal after more than 20 years of fighting VA?  As a veterans disability lawyer I am often privileged to be a part of a veteran’s winning claim in cases where the claim has been on appeal for decades.  Just recently we received a favorable Board of Veterans Appeals decision for a veteran who was appealing the denial of his psychiatric claim since 1994.  How did we finally convince VA to grant the claim?  Here’s a synopsis of what we did to finally win a claim after two decades on appeal.

The veteran had several motor vehicle accidents during active duty.  He claimed that he hit his head in these accidents.  But the service treatment records only documented one head injury.  He also had a post-service head injury that complicated the case, giving VA reason to believe his problems came from a post-service accident.  Further, the VA denied the claim for a head injury or traumatic brain injury in large part due to the delay in the onset of head injury symptoms.  When VA denies claims for a psychiatric disorder or traumatic brain injury, it often bases the denial on a lengthy gap between the in-service event and the later, post-service onset of a problem or diagnosis.  As a veterans disability attorney that represents the victims of traumatic brain injury, I am all too familiar with VA’s tactics in denying claims. 

So how did we combat VA’s reasons for denying the appeal?  We analyzed the claim and determined that the crux of VA’s theory of the case was the idea that there could not be a lengthy delay between head injury and the onset of symptoms.  This veteran developed psychosis and cognitive problems as a result of the in-service head trauma.  There was a very lengthy hiatus between service and the onset of neuropsychiatric symptoms.  Most of the VA doctors stated that post-concussion symptoms would normally resolve in a few months after a military-related head trauma.  So, the case involved numerous medical opinions, most of which were unfavorable. 

The key to this case was the discovery that one VA medical examiner stated that the veteran’s cognitive probelms were due to chronic pain.  The veteran just so happened to be service-connected for a neck problem that he sustained in the in-service motor vehicle accident.  The Board failed to consider whether there was a secondary service-connection claim for the mental problems as a result of the chronic, service-connected pain.  As a result, we were able to get the claim overturned on appeal at the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims. 

Once the case returned to the Board, we obtained a notable neuropyshiatric expert and also obtained currrent research showing that there can be a lengthy delay between head trauma and the onset of psychotic symptoms.  The expert provided the much needed testimony to establish the nexus between and in-service head trauma and a psychotic disorder.  The result: the Board granted service connection.

So, finally, after more than 20 years on appeal, this veteran will recevie his service-connected compensation. The key ingredients to winning this appeal were:

  • Getting the case overturned on appeal based on the Board’s failure to consider a secondary service connection theory.
  • Identifying the primary reason why the VA had denied the claim previously.
  • Obtaining scientific and expert testimony that overcame the VA’s objections.

If you have been struggling to win a VA claim that has been on appeal for a long time, then you may want to explore hiring a veterans benefits lawyer.  VA appeals lawyers may be able to help you identify weak points in your case, and may be able to assist you in obtaining winning evidence. 


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