Best case scenario: a few months. Unfortunately, the best case scenario rarely plays out. Thus, many veterans are waiting years to get a decision from the VA, and often times, they feel left in the dark about what is happening with their case.
For initial applications, the wait time depends on the veteran’s VA Regional Office (VARO). Initial decisions can take anywhere from 100-180 days, on average. However, the real wait comes when veterans appeal the VA’s initial decision.
The first stage in the appeals process is filing a Notice of Disagreement (NOD). In 2016, veterans waited an average of 480 days to receive a decision, called a Statement of the Case (SOC), on their NOD.
The next stage in the appeals process is to file a Form-9 substantive appeal to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals (BVA). The VA will issue a Supplemental Statement of the Case (SSOC) before it can certify, or send, the case to the BVA for a final decision. In 2016, it took on average of 644 days for a veteran to receive an SSOC.
Then, after the case has been certified to the BVA for a final decision, it takes an average of 536 days more for a veteran to receive the final decision, per 2016 data.
This means on average, if a veteran goes through all levels of appeal administered through the VA, he or she will wait almost 5 years to get a final decision. After these appeals are exhausted, however, there are still two more levels of appeals in the U.S. Federal Court system: the Court of Appeals for Veterans’ Claims, and the U.S. Supreme Court.
How can I get a decision faster?
There are two primary ways to speed up the processing time for a claim for VA Disability Compensation Benefits: Fully Developed Claims, and Decision Ready Claims.
What is a Fully Developed Claim?
The Fully Developed Claims (FDC) program is an optional initiative. To submit an FDC, the veteran or survivor submits all relevant records in their possession, and those records which are easily obtainable, such as private medical records, at the time they make their claim and certify that they have no further evidence to submit. VA can then review and process the claim more quickly. Veterans may file an FDC for disability compensation if they have 1) an injury, disability, or condition believed to have occurred or been aggravated by military service; or 2) a condition caused or aggravated by an existing service-related condition. If the VA determines other non-federal records exist that are required to decide the claim, the VA will remove the claim from the FDC program and process it through the traditional claims process. Once a veteran initiates an FDC, the veteran will have up to one year to complete the claim. Should the VA approve the claim, the veteran will be paid back to the day he initiated the claim.
There are some statistics to show that the FDC program might actually speed up claims processing. As of January 2017, the average processing time for an FDC was 119 days, compared to 188 days for a non-FDC claim. It is important to remember, however, that this is the processing time only for the initial claim for disability benefits. If the veteran files an appeal, he is then facing the processing times detailed above for the filing of the NOD and onward.
What is a Decision Ready Claim?
If a veteran is eligible to file a DRC, he can receive a decision in 30 days or less. To file a DRC, the veteran must work with an accredited Veterans Service Organization (VSO), and must have previously filed a VA claim and received a rating decision from VA on that claim. A veteran cannot file through the DRC program if he currently has another disability claim pending, an appeal pending for the condition he is claiming, or if his claim is related to pension or special monthly compensation (SMC).
One other option…maybe…
In my post last week, I discussed the new Appeals Modernization Act that is set to be implemented in February 2019. The intent of this is to speed up the processing time for VA claims. This is yet to be seen, however, so I’m not placing any bets on it…yet. However, any improvement in the appeals process is welcome, and I do hope to see some positive changes over the next few years.