A VA Appeal can be an arduous process. In addition to the fact that the burden is typically on you alone to demonstrate that you have a service connected injury or disability, you also have to understand the purpose and different steps in the appeal timeline. Whether it’s a Notice of Disagreement (NOD), Decision Review Officer (DRO) Hearing, or Statement of the Case (SOC), or BVA Hearing, you could benefit from insight into what to expect, and what to do. And if we’re representing you in your appeal, what we’ll be doing on your behalf.
This is Part 1 of a 4 part series of articles that aims to help you get more familiar with your BVA appeal. Don’t miss the other three parts:
Part 2: Decision Review Officer
Part 3: Statement of the Case
Part 4: BVA Hearing
What is a Notice of Disagreement?
A Notice of Disagreement (usually called a NOD – as in a “head nod”) is a formal disagreement with a Veterans rating decision. Most often, this term is used in context of a disability determination, though a NOD can be filed for other benefits decisions issued by the Department of Veterans Affairs. We’re focused specifically on disability compensation and pension for this series, however.
Prior to considering a NOD, you should have already filed an initial claim for a disability or for pension (due to disability). The difference between the two of these is explained in other articles in our blog. Here’s a brief summary. Disability compensation is for an injury or illness that has an effect on you today, and that was caused or made worse by your military service. A disability pension is similar to social security, in that you have a disabling condition (that is not covered under disability compensation), and you receive a pension that provides a base-minimum level of income. In fact, for VA service connected pension, eligibility for SSI is a great measuring stick to determine if you would rate the benefit.
Timing Your Notice of Disagreement
After a determination has been made on your compensation or pension initial claim, you have up to one year to file a notice of disagreement. The notice of disagreement initiates your VA disability appeal and you will receive a letter asking you to state whether or not you wish to pursue a Decision Review Officer (DRO) Hearing (we cover this in part 2).
How Do I File a Notice of Disagreement?
Until recently a notice of disagreement need not be more than a simple statement saying that you disagree with the determination. It could even be written in crayon on the back of a napkin. In fact, you might still be able to get away with this, but generally speaking, the process has become a bit more formalized. One of the reasons for this is because of the massive backlog of appeals the Department of Veterans Affairs has been working to tackle. The thought being if they can standardize the major steps, maybe they can speed up the rest of the process. The first major step by bing a Notice of Disagreement.
You can file a Notice of Disagreement by filling out a VA FORM 21-0958 and “mail your NOD to the address included on the VA decision notice letter or take your NOD to your local RO.”
Make sure to list all the items you disagree with for your appeal. Meaning list all the ratings decisions you are choosing to appeal. But be very careful about saying what you believe your rating decision should be. You may want to consult with an attorney or advocate to go over that section. Re: you may not really know what your rating should be. You’re not an expert on that part of your claim, you simply know something is wrong and they got their rating decision incorrect. When in doubt, don’t box yourself in with specifics. The VA has an obligation to help you develop your claim and appeal and that means, that if you provide that you don’t agree and list some basic reasons why, it’s incumbent upon them to determine the level of impairment (based on their observations, and your testimony).
And don’t forget to check out our article: 25 Things to Know about Service Connected Disability
What Comes After your Notice of Disagreement?
After a Notice of Disagreement has been filed, you will have the option of using the Decision Review Officer process (a reconsideration). We’ll cover this in part 2 of this series.