Disabled veterans receive benefits from the Veterans’ Administration (VA) based on a rating assigned by the VA in accordance with their rating guidelines, which dictate disability percentages for injuries. If you don’t think that the VA has assessed your injuries correctly, your only option is to appeal. The best time to appeal is within the one-year period after the VA first assigned your rating but you can appeal at any time if necessary.
Go to the Veterans' On-line Application (VONAPP) web site to file an appeal. The site provides an electronic VA Form 21-4138 to fill out and it allows you to attach up to five other documents in support of your appeal.
Request the Disabled American Veterans (DAV) or another organization familiar with how the VA system works, such as the Vietnam Veterans of America, to represent you. Instructions on how to contact either organization are contained in their web sites and the VONAPP web site also has information on how to contact them and other veterans service organizations. One of their representatives can assist you with preparing your appeal and they can also attend your VA hearings for you if you can’t make them. If your VA center is a long way from where you live, you may not be able to get to all your hearings.
Try to appeal within one year of being notified of your final rating. Attach a statement explaining the reason(s) you disagree with their finding(s) using the VONAPP web site. If your disagreement is based on contrary diagnosis from your own physician or some other specialist, your attached statement should include their findings. The only way to get the VA to increase your benefits is for them to revise their assessment of your condition, based either on new facts or at the very least a different assessment of the facts already on record.
If the VA does agree to reconsider your case, make any new scheduled appointments at your VA hospital or clinic on time because even if the VA agrees to revisit their findings, their conclusions are always based on an examination by a VA physician or other specialist. If you don’t make your scheduled appointments, the VA can dispose of your appeal simply by denying it, saying that their doctors weren’t able to verify the claims you’ve made in your appeal.
Respond to all correspondence from the VA related to your appeal within 60 days, as required. You should actually attempt to answer as quickly as possible and not wait 60 days. The more quickly you get back to them, the more quickly they can finish your appeal and, if all goes well, increase your disability rating and with it your benefits.
- Even if you’re unable to appeal your initial VA rating within a year, you can still appeal later, especially if you didn’t become aware of your disability or its nature or severity until after the one-year period elapsed. To get the VA to accept your appeal after the year grace period is up, you need to show that either the VA made a mistake in processing your initial claim or that you have new evidence to introduce about your disability. Contact the VA customer service line at 1-800-827-1000 or go to the VA web site for further assistance.
- Jupiterimages/Comstock/Getty Images