Under Appeals Reform, there will be three lanes that claimants can choose from in order to appeal an unfavorable initial decision from VA: the supplemental claim lane, higher-level review lane, and Notice of Disagreement lane. In the Notice of Disagreement lane, claimant’s appeal directly to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals following an initial denial, or a denial in either the supplemental claim or higher-level review lanes. In selecting the Notice of Disagreement lane to appeal to the Board, claimants must select a docket: direct docket, hearing docket, and evidence docket.
What is the Direct Review Docket?
The direct review docket, or direct docket, at the Board of Veterans’ Appeals applies to claimants who do not want to submit additional evidence to the Board, and do not want a hearing before a Veterans Law Judge. In this docket, the Board’s decision will be based on a review of the evidence of record at the time of the agency of original jurisdiction decision on the issue(s) on appeal. In other words, the Board will only look at the evidence that was in the claimant’s file when the decision on appeal was issued.
What is the Timeframe for Receiving Decisions in the Direct Review Docket?
VA has set a 365-day goal for issuing decisions in the direct review docket, which is projected to be the fastest among all three Board lanes as it does not involve the submission of new evidence or a hearing. VA acknowledges that direct docket cases must be distributed at a rate that allows the Board to meet this goal. For this reason, each case on the direct review docket will have a “target distribution date”. The target distribution date will take into account both the date by which the case must be decided in order to meet the timeliness goal (i.e. 365 days from the Notice of Disagreement) and the average amount of time it takes to issue a decision from the date the case is assigned to a Veterans Law Judge. The volume of cases in the direct docket will also impact the distribution date because a high number of cases without enough Veterans Law Judges to review them could create a backlog.
Benefits of the Direct Review Docket
Perhaps the greatest benefit of the direct review docket is that it allows claimants to appeal directly to the Board, bypassing the second round of Regional Office adjudication that currently exists in the Legacy appeals system. Therefore, claimants with fully developed claims are able to eliminate the additional wait time. VA also hopes to capture quality feedback, as the Board recently contracted with VA’s Veterans Experience Office to conduct surveys of veterans who have an active appeal at the Board. Seeing as the direct review docket involves appeals in which no additional evidence is added to the record, it is likely that this docket will provide the greatest amount of feedback in the shortest amount of time. This will then allow VA to identify areas in which the claims process can be improved.