The Board of Veterans’ Appeals is an entity that conducts hearings and decides claims for veterans’ benefits once they have been appealed from the agency of original jurisdiction, usually a VA Regional Office. The Board partakes in what is called a “de novo review,” meaning a fresh look at the veteran’s case. They then make a decision based off the evidence of record.
When veterans file a VA Form 9, the appeal to the Board of the Veterans’ Appeals, they have the option of requesting a hearing before the Board to discuss their claim and present new evidence for their case. Veterans do not have to participate in a hearing, it is entirely optional and the choice to request a hearing will depend on each individual’s case.
The Three Types of Hearings
There are three types of hearings that veterans can request on their VA Form 9 when they appeal to the Board.
- Videoconference hearing. In a videoconference hearing, veterans will speak with a Veterans Law Judge (VLJ) through video. The videoconference will be held at a VA regional office and your regional office will schedule you for the hearing, informing you of the time and place. If veterans wish, they can bring witnesses and representation to their videoconference hearing, as well as any evidence they would like to present to the VLJ.
- In-person hearing in Washington, DC. A veteran can request an in-person hearing with a VLJ in Washington, D.C., where the Board is located. Similar to videoconference hearings, veterans can bring witnesses and representation with them to the hearing.
- In-person hearing at your local regional office. This type of hearing allows veterans to speak with a VLJ in person at their local VA regional office. The Washington, D.C. and Baltimore, Maryland regional offices do not offer in-person hearings.
Which Type of Hearing Should I Choose?
Veterans should discuss whether or not they would like to request a hearing, and what type, with their legal representative or veteran service officer. However, there are advantages and disadvantages to the different types of hearing.
- Videoconference hearing. These types of hearings are usually quicker to schedule and more convenient for the veteran in terms of travel burden. They are typically scheduled more quickly because the hearing does not need to be worked around the VLJ’s travel schedule. These hearings will be scheduled at a local VA regional office which can lessen the veteran’s travel burden. Videoconference hearings are the same as those conducted in person in terms of structure and impact.
- In-person hearing in Washington, D.C. This type of hearing has several downsides, two of the most notable being that they can take a very long time to schedule, and the veteran must pay for the cost of travel to Washington, D.C.
- In-person hearing at your local regional office. This type of hearing can also add significant delays to an appeal due to the amount of time it takes to schedule these hearings. VLJs are not always able to travel to each regional office every year, so veterans may not have the option of being scheduled for several years.
In general, requesting a Board hearing of any type will add significant delays to a veteran receiving a decision. In the Board Chairman’s 2017 Annual Report to Congress, the Board was said to have held 16,626 hearings during fiscal year 2017, and states that “for those appeals that were resolved by the Board, Veterans waited, on average, 7 years from the date they initiated their appeal until resolution.” Appeals at the Board can take a long time to be resolved even without a hearing. Requesting a hearing does significantly increase the amount of time a veteran will wait for a decision.
What Happens At a Board Hearing?
The structure and guidelines of a Board hearing will be the same no matter which type of hearing you choose. Hearings are informal and while the judge will ask questions about your time in service and your conditions, you are not on trial. However, you will be testifying under oath at the hearing. You will be asked to swear or affirm that you will tell only the truth in your testimony before the VLJ.
One of the advantages of a Board hearing is that you can present your story and your case to the VLJ directly. You will offer your testimony and explain to the VLJ why you are entitled to the benefits you are seeking on appeal. The VLJ will ask questions in order to get an understanding of your case and your conditions, and if you have a representative present at the hearing, they will also ask you questions relevant to your appeal. Additionally, you can submit additional evidence for your appeal during your hearing, such as statements or medical records. The evidence will be added to your file for review by the Board.
It is important to understand that the VLJ will not decide your appeal at the hearing. A hearing is an avenue for veterans to submit evidence and explain their case to a VLJ, not a way of obtaining a decision directly. There will be a transcript of the hearing which will be added to your file in addition to any evidence you submit at the hearing. The transcript will be reviewed by the Board when it decides your appeal.