Filing a disability claim through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) can be complicated. A simple mistake may cause the VA to reject a claim. For those with mesothelioma, this can be terrifying since the cancer is very aggressive. Veterans can appeal unfavorable decisions from the VA and receive disability benefits.
What Are VA Appeals?
An appeal gives veterans the opportunity to overturn a decision from the VA if their disability claim was delayed or denied.
Veterans with mesothelioma can apply for VA benefits to access medical treatments and disability compensation. Since 1 out of every 3 mesothelioma patients served in the U.S. military — and may have been exposed to asbestos during their service — these benefits are more than deserved.
However, the VA may not accept all disability claims. Filing for VA benefits is a very confusing process, and without help from a VA-accredited claims agent or lawyer, veterans can make mistakes that cause their claim to be rejected — even if they actually were exposed to asbestos and developed mesothelioma while they served.
This makes the VA appeals process a useful tool, as it gives veterans a second chance to get the benefits they deserve.
Veterans can file an appeal by working with a VA-accredited attorney. These attorneys know how to build a strong case and collect evidence on the veteran’s behalf — which may make the difference in appealing an unfavorable decision.
Importance of VA Appeals
VA appeals are extremely important for veterans with mesothelioma since the cancer is highly aggressive.
Though mesothelioma takes 20-50 years to develop after exposure to asbestos fibers, veterans with mesothelioma may only live a handful of years — or even months — depending on their diagnosis.
Most patients are not diagnosed until the cancer has spread, making the chances of long-term survival slim. And, if a veteran’s VA disability claim is denied, they could lose out on crucial VA Health Care services at a time when they need it most.
Because of this, the appeals process can be a blessing to veterans with mesothelioma.
The VA appeals process allows veterans to:
- Add new evidence to support their claims
- Correct mistakes they made
- Discuss their case (and any disputes) with those reviewing the appeal
- See if the VA made a mistake that caused the claim to be denied
Veterans with mesothelioma normally receive a 100% disability rating — a cash value of $3,057 a month, or more depending on their circumstances — but only if the VA accepts their claim.
Since many veterans may not be able to work after a mesothelioma diagnosis, these payouts may be their only way to cover their medical treatments and related expenses. This is why it is so important to appeal a claim if it’s denied.
Who Can Submit a VA Disability Appeal?
Veterans can submit a VA disability appeal. If a veteran passes away, their loved ones (such as their spouse) may be able to receive benefits and file appeals if their benefits claim is denied.
VA Appeal Process
If the VA rejects or denies a VA claim, veterans have one year to decide if they want to appeal the decision.
The VA recently updated its appeals process, meaning different rules now apply depending on when the veteran received the original decision.
Those who received a decision on February 19, 2019, or later can file an appeal in one of three different ways.
VA appeal options include:
- Higher-Level Review: With this option, a senior-level VA reviewer will look at the claim. The reviewer will see if an error or difference of opinion caused the claim to be rejected or denied. Veterans cannot submit any additional evidence here, but they may call the reviewer and explain the case to them.
- Supplemental Claim: Here, veterans can submit more evidence to support the claim and send it off for another review. This option can be helpful if the claim was missing information, or if new evidence was found to support the claim. A reviewer will then examine the claim alongside the new evidence.
- Judicial Review: This option allows veterans to appeal directly to a veterans law judge. These judges are experts in veterans laws and sit on the Board of Veterans’ Appeals in Washington D.C. In a judicial review, a veteran can:
- Ask for a direct review of the case (without new evidence or a hearing)
- Submit new evidence without a hearing
- Submit new evidence and also meet with a veterans’ law judge (this meeting does not decide the case — the veteran will explain to the judge why they appealed, and a transcript is added to the case)
Veterans can visit the VA’s official website or talk to a VA-accredited claims agent to learn more about which option they should pursue.
- VA Disability Claims
- Survivor Benefits
- Finding Veteran Doctors
VA Appeals Process Prior to 2019
Those who received an initial decision before February 19, 2019, must follow the old VA appeals process.
Here is a breakdown of the old VA appeals process:
- The veteran files a Notice of Disagreement (NOD). A NOD formally requests that the VA reconsider its decision. Ideally, the NOD should include new evidence to strengthen the case, if possible.
- A reviewer examines the case along with any new evidence. From there, they provide a Statement of the Case, in which they will accept or deny the appeal.
- If the Statement of the Case is unfavorable, the veteran can appeal the decision again — this time to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals. Like the current system, the veteran can choose to submit the case as is, add more evidence, or request a hearing with a judge.
- From there, the Board reviews the case and makes a decision. The Board will either allow, deny, or remand the appeal. When an appeal is remanded, the Board could not make a decision, and the appeal gets sent back to lower levels for another review.
Common Questions About VA Appeals
The route an appeal takes — and its overall outcome — can vary greatly with each case. Below, find some common questions and answers relating to VA appeals.
How Long Does the VA Appeals Process Take?
This depends on the specifics of the case and what type of review process has been chosen.
Here are rough estimates of how long it will take to process claims:
- Higher-Level Review: 4-5 months
- Supplemental Claim: 4-5 months
- Judicial Review: 1 year (or longer with new evidence or a hearing)
Under the old VA appeals process, it typically takes 12-18 months to review a new appeal and make a decision on it. It can take even longer in some cases.
For example, after a mesothelioma diagnosis in the mid-2000s, a veteran applied for VA disability benefits but never received them. His widow couldn’t successfully appeal until 2010 — more than five years after the veteran passed away.
What Is the VA Disability Appeal Success Rate?
The VA Disability Appeal Success Rate is the number of cases that successfully get appealed and allow veterans to receive benefits. According to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals annual fiscal year report for 2018, about 36% of appeals that the VA processed in 2018 were approved. Most VA appeals in 2018 — approximately 39% — were remanded.
As of 2019, 60% of all appeals are remanded at least once before a final decision is made.
How Can I Check My VA Appeal Status?
Veterans can track their appeal online by signing into the VA website, much like they can to manage their other VA benefits.
Veterans can track:
- Approximate wait times
- Current, previous, and next steps for the appeal
- Number of appeals ahead of the case
For help tracking their VA appeal status, veterans should get in touch with a claims agent or lawyer accredited by the VA
Get Help With VA Disability Appeals
If your disability claim for mesothelioma was rejected, don’t panic.
With the help of a VA-accredited claims agent or attorney, you have a better chance of receiving VA benefits. These agents know the ins and outs of applying for VA benefits, as well as appealing them.
VA-accredited claims agents can help you:
- Avoid delays in the appeals process
- Gather evidence
- File your appeal on time
- Prevent unnecessary mistakes
- Receive the benefits you deserve
The Mesothelioma Veterans Center has VA-accredited claims agents on staff who can help you throughout the appeals process. Learn more about the ways our team can help you receive VA benefits today.