When you’re filling out your VA Form 9 appeal for the Board of Veterans’ Appeals (“BVA”), you will see a section on the form where you need to indicate whether you want a BVA hearing. On the VA Form 9, take a look at box 10, which says:
10. OPTIONAL BOARD HEARING
IMPORTANT: Read the information about this block in paragraph 6 of the attached instructions. This block is used to request an optional Board of Veterans’
Appeals (Board) hearing. DO NOT USE THIS FORM TO REQUEST A HEARING BEFORE VA REGIONAL OFFICE PERSONNEL.
Check one (and only one) of the following boxes:
A. I DO NOT WANT AN OPTIONAL BOARD HEARING. (Choosing this option often results in the Board issuing its decision most quickly. If you choose, you may write down what you would say at a hearing and submit it directly to the Board.)
I WANT AN OPTIONAL BOARD HEARING:
B. BY LIVE VIDEOCONFERENCE AT A LOCAL VA OFFICE. (Choosing this option will add delay to issuance of a Board decision.)
C. IN WASHINGTON, DC. (Choosing this option will add delay to issuance of a Board decision.)
D. AT A LOCAL VA OFFICE.* (Choosing this option will add significant delay to issuance of a Board decision.)
*This option is not available at the Washington, DC, or Baltimore, MD, Regional Offices.
To many veterans, this is perhaps the most difficult part of the form. They know which issues they want to appeal and they know why they think VA decided the claim incorrectly. But, how do you know which hearing option is right for you and your claim?
Do You REALLY Need a BVA Hearing to Win Your Appeal?
The form itself tells you that the quickest way to have your claim decided is to forego the BVA hearing. We know why VA likes this option – less hearings means less work for them, which means a better chance of clearing the VA appeals backlog. Less work and less delay is always a good thing, but only if that shorter route gets you to your ultimate goal – a win in your VA disability compensation claim. You need to make this decision on your own looking at the right factors without being influenced by the VA and its own self interests.
If your claim is one where all of the evidence necessary to substantiate your claim is already in the claims file (or will be before the BVA looks at the appeal), then perhaps you don’t even need a BVA hearing. Present the evidence and any arguments in writing and be done with it.
As we discussed in a recent article about how an attorney can potentially speed up your VA claim, you always need to be on the lookout for ways to cut out VA’s delays. There has been a longstanding backlog of VA claims at the regional office level. The VA for the most part has worked through those delays and processed those claims (that is not to say there are not exceptions to this, though). Now, the biggest backlog stands at the BVA level. There are only so many veterans law judges employed at the BVA who can hear and decide appeals. Therefore, veterans must wait in line for their claim to make it on the docket. If there’s nothing really to add to your claim through the hearing process, a hearing is not likely to increase your odds of a favorable result. It could do just the opposite if a veterans law judge uses the hearing as an opportunity to find ways to justify denial of your claim based on what you say or don’t say at your hearing. Therefore, you need to consider all the elements of your claim and really question whether or not the hearing is necessary for a grant of your claim. As we talked about in our other article, an attorney is well-suited to advise you on this after a careful review of your claims file and all of the evidence contained therein.
Don’t Use the BVA Hearing for the Wrong Reasons
Many veterans want a hearing with a veterans law judge because they think they can convince that person through heated argument or through sheer willpower to grant the claim. Unfortunately, veterans law judges do not decide claims in that way. They look at the facts and the law. If the facts don’t meet the legal requirements necessary to grant your claim, you will lose. A veterans law judge is not going to be persuaded by anything you say that is not absolutely relevant to deciding the claim. And, by all means do not use the BVA hearing as an opportunity to “speak your mind” or rail against the injustices of the VA system and its treatment of veterans. The BVA judges are well aware of the defects in the system, and I believe they truly do want to improve the system and the process for all veterans affected. But they’re not going to correct that system by granting claims that otherwise should not be compensable. To use the BVA hearing process as an opportunity to get on your soapbox and tell how you think the system is unfair is an improper use of the appeals process. It wastes the judges’ time and your time. It also consumes VA resources, which in effect means other deserving veterans who actually do need a hearing are forced to wait and incur further delay in the process.
A Veterans Disability Attorney Can Help You Decide on the Need for a BVA Hearing and Which Type
If you do determine that a hearing is likely to improve your chances of receiving a favorable outcome in your VA disability claim can you essentially have three options available to you. We will cover the pros and cons of each of those in a later article. If you are at this stage in the VA appeals process, you may want to have a free consultation with a VA disability attorney to make sure you have what you need to win your VA appeal. We handle all types of VA disability claims and appeals and would be glad to review your particular issues with you.