In this video, one of CCK’s founding partners, Robert Chisholm, speaks with partner Zachary Stolz about the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims.
The Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, also known as the Court or the CAVC, is the federal court that is in charge of making sure that VA follows the law when it makes decisions in veterans’ disability compensation claims. If a veteran is denied by the Board of Veterans Appeals (BVA) and decides to appeal, the case goes to the Court.
Importantly, the Court is not a part of the Department of Veterans Affairs. This allows the Court judges the necessary judicial independence to make decisions. At the VA level (i.e. when the claim is being processed and decided by adjudicators at a VA Regional Office or by the Board of Veterans Appeals), the process is “non-adversarial,” meaning the VA is supposed to keep the veteran’s interests in mind and assist them in supporting their claim when possible. At the Court level, however, the process becomes “adversarial” (as courts typically are) and the VA is responsible for representing only its own interests.
You are not required to have an attorney in Court, but because the process becomes adversarial and legally complex, it is highly recommended. VA is represented by an attorney at the Court level, so it makes sense for the veteran to have an experienced attorney as well. On average, CCK represents about 1500 veterans and/or their dependents at the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims each year.
Once you appeal from the Board to the Court, you cannot add new evidence to your claim. The evidence in the veteran’s file at the time the Board makes its decision is used to decide the case. In deciding the case, the judges on the Court will read the legal briefs from the VA and from the veterans’ attorney.
A win at the Court often means finding that the Board committed a legal error. If the Court judges agree that the Board committed a legal or procedural error, the Court will then order the Board to correct that error. Generally, that is a favorable decision for the veteran. Back at the Board, the veteran can also add new evidence and the process becomes non-adversarial once again.
There are different types of decisions made by the Court. Single-judge decisions affect only the individual veteran in the case. But occasionally the Court convenes a three-judge panel that can issue a precedential decision that affects the entire disability compensation system.
The Court is not necessarily the end of the road for a veteran’s claim. If the CAVC denies a veteran’s appeal, the veteran can appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (referred to as the Federal Circuit). CCK represents veterans at the Federal Circuit level as well.