When can you reopen a VA claim?
You can reopen a VA claim if you were denied benefits and the decision has become final. A decision becomes final when you have either 1) missed the deadline to appeal a decision, or, 2) exhausted the appeals process (i.e. gone through appeals with your VA Regional Office, the Board of Veterans’ Appeals (BVA), and the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims (CAVC)). For more information on the deadlines associated with each part of the appeals process, check out our Overview of the Disability Compensation Claims Process.
Secondly, your claim must be one of the following types of VA disability claims:
- Service-connected disability compensation
- Dependency indemnity compensation (DIC), or
- Burial benefits.
Other types of benefit denials, such as denials of increased disability ratings or VA pensions, must be refiled as new claims.
Finally, you must have “new and material” evidence.
Note: There is no “statute of limitations” in cases like this, meaning you have the right to request that your claim be reopened no matter how much time has passed.
What counts as new and material evidence?
Your claim will not be reopened until VA has determined that the evidence you have submitted is indeed new and material.
To be considered new, the evidence must currently exist and be submitted to VA for the first time. To be considered material, the evidence must be relevant to the reason(s) your claim was denied previously. Material evidence must relate to an unestablished fact – a fact that VA did not have enough evidence to verify at the time of their prior decision – that is necessary to substantiate your claim. You can find the specific reasons VA denied your claim on the notification letter that came with your rating decision.
Here’s an example that might help: Say you filed your original claim for the residuals of a knee injury, but you were denied because none of your service records showed medical treatment for a knee injury. In other words, VA found that your disability was not service connected. Years later, after the deadline for appeal has passed, you try to reopen your claim by submitting a statement from your private physician that confirms your diagnosis after all this time. VA would not reopen your claim.
Why not? The evidence you submitted is “new”- i.e. not previously submitted – but not “material.” Your claim was denied previously because you couldn’t show an in-service injury, not because you couldn’t show a current diagnosis. On the other hand, VA would likely reopen your claim if you submitted, for example, a statement from another veteran who served with you and remembers your knee injury or an old photo of you on base with a bandaged knee and crutches.
How do I request that my claim be reopened? How do I submit the new and material evidence?
In order to reopen your claim, you must submit a request to your local VA Regional Office. VA requires that you submit VA Form 21-526EZ. You should send in your new and material evidence with your application. It is helpful to provide a summary of the evidence you are submitting that explains why the evidence is new and material, as your claim will not be reopened nor evaluated until VA confirms that your evidence is both new and material.
If you reopen a VA claim and benefits are granted, VA generally considers the effective date (i.e. the date from which you begin receiving benefits) to be the date you filed a request to have the claim reopened, not the date of the original claim. Any retroactive benefits you receive will be from that more recent effective date.
Can I appeal a reopened claim?
Yes. If you succeed in getting your claim reopened, but are still denied benefits after VA consideration, you still have the right to appeal the denial of benefits.