The length of the VA claims and appeals process can vary tremendously based on many factors, including the number of issues for which a veteran is filing a claim, the complexity of the case, and whether the veteran is in the old appeals system (i.e. the legacy appeal system) or the new appeals system (i.e. Appeals Reform).
Veterans Appeals Deadlines in the Legacy System
The legacy appeals system only involves one “lane” in the veterans’ claims and appeals process. In other words, all veterans filing for VA disability benefits go through the same steps and must adhere to the following appeal deadlines:
- After filing an initial claim, the local Regional Office will issue a Rating Decision that grants, denies, or partially grants the claim. Veterans have one year to file a Notice of Disagreement (NOD).
- VA will then issue a Statement of the Case (SOC), explaining why the claim was denied or only partially granted. Veterans have 60 days from when VA issues the SOC to file a VA Form 9 Substantive Appeal to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals.
- The Board will then issue a decision granting, denying or remanding the claim for further action. If veterans are appealing a further denial, they have 120 days to appeal to the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims (CAVC).
- If veterans are denied at the CAVC, they have 60 days to appeal to the Federal Circuit.
While veterans are required to follow these deadlines, VA is not obligated to work under any timeframes of its own.
Legacy System Claims and Appeals Process Timeline
In March of 2017, the United States Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report titled “VA Disability Benefits: Additional Planning Would Enhance Efforts to Improve the Timeliness of Appeals Decisions”. The report outlines VA’s current backlog in working on the claims and appeals for disability benefits in the legacy system. According to GAO’s report, these are some of the average wait times starting when the veteran files an appeal to when VA issues a decision on that appeal:
- 419 days: average time between when VA receives an NOD to when they issue an SOC
- 537 days: average time between when VA receives an appeal to the Board to when they certify that appeal
- 222 days: average time between when the appeal is certified to the Board to when it is placed on the Board’s docket
- 270 days: average time between when the appeal is docketed to when the Board issues a decision
It is important to note that these wait times are averages and veterans may experience longer or shorter wait times.
Veterans Appeals Deadlines Under Appeals Reform
Under Appeals Reform, veterans will still receive a Rating Decision after every claim is filed. However, if a veteran disagrees with VA’s decision, he or she has one year to appeal by choosing one of the following three lanes: the higher-level review lane, supplemental claim lane, or Notice of Disagreement lane (i.e. Appeal to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals). After appealing through one of those three lanes, veterans will then receive another decision. Specifically, both the higher-level review and supplemental claim lanes will yield additional Rating Decisions while the Notice of Disagreement lane will produce a Board decision:
- Higher-level Review Rating Decision. If a veteran receives an unfavorable decision in the higher-level review lane, he or she has one year to file either a supplemental claim or a Notice of Disagreement.
- Supplemental Claim Rating Decision. If a veteran receives an unfavorable Rating Decision in the supplemental claim lane, he or she has one year to file an appeal in any one of the three lanes.
- Board Decision. If a veteran receives an unfavorable Board decision, he or she can either file a supplemental claim within one year or appeal to the CAVC within 120 days.
- CAVC Decision. If a veteran receives an unfavorable decision from the CAVC, he or she has one year to file a supplemental claim, or 60 days to appeal to the Federal Circuit
Appeals Reform Claims and Appeals Process Timeline
Similar to the legacy appeals system, VA does not operate under any mandated deadlines. However, VA has proposed several timeframe goals regarding the processing of decisions under Appeals Reform. For both the higher-level review and supplemental claim lanes, VA has set forth a 125-day goal for issuing decisions. Additionally, in the Notice of Disagreement lane, there are an additional three dockets veterans must choose from: the direct docket, evidence docket, and hearing docket. VA has set forth a 365-day goal for issuing decisions in the direct docket, but estimates the evidence and hearing dockets will be subject to longer wait times. The hearing docket in particular may have an average wait time of 5-7 years. VA intends to provide regular wait time updates so that veterans can remain informed and up to date on the status of their claims and appeals. Overall, VA expects the appeals process timeline to drop from 5 years to 3 years in the new system, and eventually hopes to process claims and appeals within a 12-18-month timeframe.
Expediting VA Disability Claims
While the VA disability claims and appeals process can be lengthy, it is important to note that there are several situations in which veterans may be eligible to have their claims and appeals expedited.
- Extreme Financial Hardship or Homelessness. Veterans can request to expedite a VA disability claim if they are experiencing extreme financial hardship, or if they are homeless or at imminent risk of becoming homeless. VA requires
- Advanced Age. If a veteran is over a certain age, he or she can request to have a claim expedited. The age requirement for expediting a veteran’s claim or appeal is different at the Regional Office level and the Board level. Specifically, at the Regional Office, a veteran must be 85 years of age or older whereas at the Board, a veteran must be 75 years of age or older.
- Terminally Ill. VA is instructed to prioritize claims in which the veteran is terminally ill. Veterans must submit evidence of a terminal illness in order for VA to expedite the claim.
Unfortunately, there is no way to predict how much faster a claim will be decided when it is expedited, but VA employees are instructed to handle “priority” claims before “non-priority” claims. Nonetheless, expedited claims still enter a queue of other expedited claims, meaning veterans will still have to wait in a line.