As veterans know, the VA disability claim process can be lengthy and frustrating, and it often takes multiple years to obtain a decision on disability benefits. While VA does not operate on a timeline when handling veterans’ claims, there are several situations in which veterans may be eligible to request to expedite VA disability claims.
#1: Financial Hardship and Homelessness
Extreme Financial Hardship
Veterans can request to expedite a VA disability claim if they are experiencing extreme financial hardship. Financial hardship can take different forms, but veterans can use certain types of evidence to support their request. Some useful evidence to submit could be:
- Eviction notices
- Past due bills, such as utilities or medical bills
- Collection notices
If VA looks at the evidence you submitted and determines that it is sufficient to show you are experiencing financial hardship, it will “flash” your file in its electronic system. By flashing a veteran’s file for expedition, VA employees are able to see that a veteran’s claim should be handled with expeditious treatment.
If a veteran is homeless, VA can expedite his or her claim for benefits. VA uses the legal definition of homelessness outlined in 42 U.S.C. § 11302, which states that a person is considered “homeless” if they:
- “Lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence;” or
- Have a “primary nighttime residence that is a public or private place not designated for or ordinarily used as a regular sleeping accommodation” such as a parking lot, vehicle, public transportation station, or abandoned building; or
- Lives in a shelter
VA will also flash a veteran’s file if he or she is at imminent risk of becoming homeless. Claims of homeless veterans will get “priority processing.”
#2: Advanced Age
The age requirement for expediting a veteran’s claim is different at the Regional Office level and the Board of Veterans’ Appeals level. At the Regional Office, a veteran must be 85 years of age or older in order to have his or her claim expedited. For the Board of Veterans’ Appeals, veterans must be 75 years of age or older for his or her claim to be advanced on the Board’s docket.
Veterans should note, for example, that a 77 year old veteran may have their case advanced on the Board’s docket, but the file will not be flashed for expeditious treatment at the Regional Office due to the older age requirement.
#3: Terminally Ill
VA is instructed to prioritize claims in which the claimant is terminally ill. A veteran can request that his or her claim be expedited based on a terminal illness but will need to submit evidence of a terminal illness in order for VA to flash the file.
Evidence of a terminal illness can take the form of a treatment note, medical opinion, or a note from a treating physician that states your diagnosis and that it is terminal. When VA receives the evidence and finds it sufficient to support that you are terminally ill, it should flash your file and treat your claim expeditiously.
How Fast Will Expedited VA Disability Claims Be Decided?
There is no accurate way to predict how must faster a claim will be decided when it is expedited. VA does outline procedures it must follow when handling an expedited claim. For instance, VA employees are instructed to handle “priority” claims before “non-priority” claims. It is true that an expedited claim will be handled before those claims that are not expedited, however, when a veteran’s claim is expedited, it will enter a queue of other expedited claims, meaning it will still have to wait in line.
Advancing on the Board’s Docket
The procedure is slightly different for claims that are advanced on the Board’s docket versus those that are expedited at the Regional Office. First, it should be noted that in the current Legacy appeals system (as opposed to the appeal system in the Rapid Appeals Modernization Program (RAMP)), the Board has a single docket. On this docket, appeals are heard based on the date a Veteran submits a VA Form 9, the appeal to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals. What this means is that all veterans are waiting in the same line to have their case reviewed by the Board, and they must wait in the order they appealed.
For a veteran’s case to be heard by the Board sooner, the case must be advanced on the Board’s docket, meaning it will skip part of the line and be heard before it would have been otherwise. In order to have your claim expedited, a veteran must file a Motion to Advance on the Board’s docket. These requests must be written and also must identify the reason the veteran’s claim should be expedited.
There are three main avenues for a veteran’s case to be advanced on the docket:
- The veteran is 75 years of age or older
- The veteran is terminally ill
- The veteran is experiencing severe financial hardship
When a request for advancement on the docket is granted, a veteran’s case will go to the top of the list for cases to be heard. However, veterans will still wait for a decision with those who are also advanced on the Board’s docket.