One of the biggest problems veterans face in the VA disability claims process is how long it takes. It can take months, or in some unfortunate cases, over a year to get an initial ratings decision in your claim. I’m sad to say that is usually the fast part of the VA claims process. Claims can go on for years and years in the various stages of appeal before the claim is decided favorably.
Some veterans who contact our office want to know whether their claim will go faster if they hire us. Can we force VA to rule more quickly and cut out all the delay?
So, what’s the answer to that question? In typical lawyer fashion, my answer is “it depends.”
A Good Attorney Will Tell You What He Can and Cannot Do for You
From a legal standpoint, no, a veterans disability attorney cannot force VA to stop dragging their feet. We are not their bosses and have no power over them. There is no magic wand that we as attorneys can waive to make your claim be decided now sooner rather than later.
But, that doesn’t mean we don’t try. There are things that we can do to make it more likely that VA will decide your claim sooner.
How can we do that? We can sum that up in two words: Evidence & Procedures.
Experience Helps Identify Missing Evidence in Your VA Disability Claim
We have looked at hundreds of veterans cases and have read lots of ratings decisions and BVA decisions. We compare your case to those winning cases to see what’s different. What evidence did those have that yours currently does not? If you think of a winning VA claim as a puzzle, what are the missing pieces of that puzzle? The sooner we identify those missing pieces and get to work on locating or developing that evidence, the sooner you can turn a denial or delay into a favorable ratings decision.
Many times, I see veterans waiting around for VA to gather or develop evidence necessary to substantiate a claim. That may be because they simply don’t know what evidence they need or don’t know they can take the initiative and provide this to VA without VA first asking for it. Either way, being reactive rather than proactive will make your claim move slower every time.
I always approach a VA claim with the assumption that there is something missing in the claim that is causing it to be denied. I have been wrong. There are times that I review a file and see that the VA simply blew it. Everything was in the claims file that was needed for a grant of service connection or increased rating, but the VA denied anyway. In those cases, that is when I turn my focus to the second way I can hopefully move a claim along – familiarity with procedures and choosing the shortest path to our ultimate destination.
No Shortcuts Available, but Avoid the Scenic Route
We always tell veterans who ask us to speed up their claim that no attorney (or VSO, for that matter) has special privileges or connections with the VA that allow us to fast-track claims. However, because experienced practitioners are familiar with the various procedural and hearing options in a VA claim, we can determine which course will give you the quickest outcome while still giving you the best chance of a favorable decision.
A lawyer mentor of mine told me long ago, “If the judge is about to rule in your favor, keep your mouth shut.” The same is true in your VA claim. Going back to the earlier example, you may have all the evidence in your claims file needed for a favorable decision. If that is the case, usually there is no sense in waiting around for an in person hearing. There is nothing else to say or add. All you can do is give the hearing officer an opportunity to find a reason to deny your claim. An attorney will be able to make that determination based on his review of your claims file.
If the in person hearing is not necessary, the attorney can submit a written summary to the VA explaining why the evidence in the file was not considered or weighed properly the first time. That can cut a year or more off the inevitable delay. And, if that doesn’t work and you are denied again, you might as well know that earlier so you can appeal to a higher level of review where a correct decision is more likely.
Our Ultimate Goal
We realize that VA personnel are human. They have a backlog of claims to decide. We want to make your claim the easy one for them to decide so they get their “work credits” and reduce their personal backlog (note: this is how they are evaluated by supervisors on their job performance). If we can put the right evidence in front of them without making them request it and wait for it, explain the significance of that evidence in your claim, and do that in a clear and concise way without any extra effort on their part, your claim becomes the one they want to work on. They will push the disorganized, hard claims aside and decide yours first. While we can’t force them to do that, it is in their own personal best interests to do so. In short, we try to move your claim to the front of the line, or as close as we can possibly get.
See What We Can Do In Your VA Disability Claim
Remember, hiring an attorney is not a secret shortcut to getting your claim decided. It’s all about presenting your claim in the best light possible so you get the decision you want without any unnecessary delay. But, there will still be some delay on VA’s part until Congress truly addresses certain key issues. If you want to see whether hiring an attorney might be the right choice for your VA claim, you can have us review your claim and have a no risk, free consultation. Let us know if we can be of assistance to you.