CAVC Decisions Explained
While many veterans pursue appeals with the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims after receiving an unfavorable decision from the Board of Veterans’ Appeals, the process can be a source of confusion. If you need help understanding what your CAVC decision means for VA appeal, continue reading to learn more about how these decisions can affect your case.
What is the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims (CAVC)?
To understand what your CAVC decision means for your appeal, it is helpful to first understand the Court itself. The Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims (CAVC) is a federal court located in Washington D.C. that is dedicated to deciding the appeals of claimants who have been unsuccessful in their cases before the Board of Veterans’ Appeals. Claimants at the CAVC could be veterans or their dependents, such as spouses or children.
Judges at the CAVC are appointed by the President of the United States and must be confirmed by the Senate. Cases may be decided by a single judge or by a panel of judges. These judges rule on all types of benefits issues, including disability compensation, educational assistance, survivor’s benefits, and pension benefits.
Importantly, the CAVC is not part of VA, nor is it under the jurisdiction of VA. The two systems operate independently of one another.
One of the key differences between cases pending at the Agency level (i.e., before a VA Regional Office or the Board) and those before the CAVC is VA’s duty to assist. When a claim is pending before VA, VA is required to assist veterans with development and evidence collection; when a claim is at the CAVC, VA no longer has a duty to assist the veteran and will instead have an attorney defending the Agency’s position. In other words, the relationship between VA and the veteran becomes adversarial.
The CAVC’s job is to determine whether the BVA had the facts and law correct when it denied your appeal.
How to Appeal to the CAVC
If a veteran disagrees with a decision from the Board of Veterans’ Appeals in the Legacy appeals system, the only option for appeal is to appeal to the CAVC within 120 days, or they will lose their effective date. If a veteran does not appeal within this window, they will have to file a supplemental claim, which will result in a new effective date, and likely less VA disability compensation if the veteran is eventually granted benefits.
Under the Appeals Modernization Act (AMA), if veterans receive an unfavorable decision from the Board, they have two main options:
- File a supplemental claim with new and relevant evidence at the Regional Office level
- Appeal to the CAVC
With the AMA system, appealing to the CAVC is much like how it is in the Legacy appeals system. After the Board issues a decision, the claimant will have 120 days to file their appeal to the CAVC, otherwise the decision will become final.
In order to file an appeal, the claimant will need to complete a Notice of Appeal with the Court. This form will call for information including the claimant’s name, address, telephone number, address, VA claims file number, date of birth, and the date of the Board decision that the claimant is appealing. The Notice of Appeal can be mailed, faxed, or emailed to the Court using the contact information below:
Clerk of the Court
United States Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims
625 Indiana Avenue NW, Suite 900
Washington DC, 2004-2950
Fax: (202) 501-5848
Email for represented claimants: firstname.lastname@example.org
Email for self-represented claimants: email@example.com
Importantly, veterans do not need to attend a hearing at the CAVC in order to have their case decided. Most cases are decided based on the briefs that are sent to the Court.
In some cases, the Court will schedule an oral argument in which both the veteran’s representative and an Office of General Counsel representative will appear in Court before the judge or panel of judges.
What Decisions Does the CAVC Make?
Most of the time, CAVC appeals result in a remand. If a remand is issued, the case will go back down to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals for re-adjudication. There, the BVA will issue a new decision based on the errors that have been identified by the judges at the CAVC.
It is important to understand that a remand can be a favorable outcome for a veteran’s appeal. When a remand is issued, the CAVC is essentially acknowledging that VA has made mistakes in its decision regarding your claim. Remember: the CAVC’s job is to determine whether the BVA had the facts and law correct when it denied your appeal. If the CAVC issues a remand, the Court is essentially saying that the BVA denial is due to an incorrect application of the law or misinterpretation of facts of the case.
As such, the decision may then be changed, which could result in the veteran being granted benefits.
In some rare occasions, the CAVC may reverse a Board decision and directly order VA to grant benefits. However, this does not happen often, so it is important not to expect that CAVC will automatically reverse a BVA decision.
Just as the CAVC may directly reverse a BVA decision, the CAVC can also affirm BVA’s decision. If this happens, the Court is essentially saying that the BVA did not make any legal errors in its interpretation of the law and the denial it made in the veteran’s case was warranted. If the judges at the CAVC affirm a BVA decision, it becomes final.
What if I Disagree with the Court’s Decision?
There are several options if the veteran does not agree with the Court’s decision and would like to continue their appeal.
- Motion for reconsideration
- Request a panel decision – case is decided by a panel of CAVC judges (if your case initially involved only one judge)
- Appeal the case to the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (next level in the federal system)
- To do this, a legal error must have occurred during the court’s decision making.
Do I Need a Lawyer for My CAVC Appeal?
While veterans do not need a representative at the CAVC, it is highly recommended. When you proceed on your own, you go up against experienced attorneys employed by VA who are well-versed in the specifics of VA law.
When choosing a representative, it is important to choose one who is accredited to represent clients before VA and the CAVC. Not all attorneys who represent veterans in cases before VA are qualified to handle cases at the CAVC level, so you will want to be sure that your representative can represent you at this level. Additionally, you can have different representation at the CAVC level than you did at the Agency level. Essentially, what this means is that you can hire a different representative to assist with your CAVC appeal than the one you had when your case was at the BVA.
Again, while you do not need representation for your CAVC appeal, you can be at a significant disadvantage if you represent yourself, so it is often in your best interest to have representation.
Can I Hire CCK For My CAVC Appeal?
Chisholm Chisholm & Kilpatrick’s accredited veterans’ advocates are qualified to handle cases at both the Agency level and the CAVC. If you need representation for your CAVC appeal, we may be able to help. Call our office today for a free case evaluation.
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