Just the other day I received an email from an old client–a veteran I helped at the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims. We were successful in getting his claim remanded back to the Board. Fortunately for him, the work we did at the Court helped persuade the Board to grant his claims. He did not quite understand the decision because there was no indication as to how much money he would be receiving.
His email reminded me of how often I get questions similar to his. Understandably, the VA system is complex, confusing, and frustrating. So I thought I would write another article to clarify what happens after the Board makes a favorable decision.
If you are fortunate enough to have won your case at the Board level, then you are no stranger to long delays. According to the Annual Report of the Chairman, Board of Veterans’ Appeals, Fiscal Year 2010, a veteran is waiting on average 243 days after he files his notice of disagreement until the VA issues a statement of the case. From the time a veteran files his formal appeal (Form 9) until the VA certifies the case to the Board, the average wait time is 609 days. And then the veteran can expect another 212 days, on average, for the Board to make a decision.
So a veteran puts up with excessive delays until finally...the Board grants service connection. But where’s the money? Well, the Board is only addressing the issue on appeal. It does not implement decisions and write checks. Once the Board grants service connection, it sends the case back to the Regional Office for the VA to issue an implementing rating decision where it assigns a rating and an effective date. When this happens the veteran will receive another rating decision with a letter explaining what his benefits will be. The past due benefits check will usually arrive within 15 days.
The frustration comes when you have to wait several months between a Board decision granting service connection and the Regional Office’s rating decision assigning a rating. So, if the Board grants a veteran’s claim for service connection, he must still wait several months for the VA to implement that decision. In other words, even though the Board granted service connection, you must still wait several months before you actually receive your check.
Not too long ago I had a client for whom I obtained a total disability rating. His past due benefits award was in excess of $100,000. He had experienced about 6-7 years of waiting while the case was on appeal. His financial situation was truly desperate. Until that time he had managed to survive on a 50 percent rating (as of this writing $770 per month). However, now that he knew a six-figure check was due, the last several months of waiting became more difficult than the previous 7 years. I always advise veterans after a favorable Board decision to be prepared for an additional wait of several months.
As I indicated, if the Board granted service connection it will send the case back to the Regional Office to address the other issues (rating percentage and effective date). At this point we recommend that veterans submit to the Regional Office any additional evidence and argument on the issue of the proper rating and effective date. It is important to ensure that the Regional Office makes the correct decision the first time. If the Regional Office grants a rating that is too low, then a veteran is forced to appeal the rating and endure more years of delay. Every effort should be made to avoid further delay.