What is a Decision Review Officer (DRO)?
A Decision Review Officer (DRO) is a senior-level employee at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) who handles post-decision appeals of disability award decisions. When you apply for disability benefits, the VA sends its decision in a letter. If the VA denies your claim or approves it for a lower benefit amount than you deserve, you have the right to appeal.
How does a DRO help me with my case?
The appeals process starts with filing a Notice of Disagreement (NOD). This form lets you state the reasons you feel the VA’s decision on your case was wrong. A NOD is filed with the Agency of Original Jurisdiction, usually your local regional office, which issued the denial of your claim. With your NOD, you can select whether you would like a DRO review or a traditional review of your claim.
The traditional review is completed by the same claims officer who initially issued a denial of your claim. In the DRO process, your claim is reviewed by a DRO who has the power to confirm or overrule the initial denial. A DRO review also offers other benefits, such as the ability to present your case face-to-face with the decision maker via a DRO hearing.
How can I request a DRO hearing?
The easiest way to request a DRO hearing is to do so when filling out your NOD. You can specify that you want your appeal reviewed by a DRO rather than put into the line for a traditional review.
At any point while your appeal is in line at your regional VA office, you can request to have it redirected to a DRO. Moreover, the VA will ask you at some point after submission — the exact time it takes can vary significantly — if you wish to have a DRO hearing.
Still, the fastest and most efficient way to ensure a DRO hearing is to ask for one up front with your NOD submission.
What are the benefits of a DRO review?
The first and perhaps most obvious benefit of a DRO review is that it offers a fresh, more experienced set of eyes to review your claim. Also, with a DRO review, you can request a hearing during which you can communicate directly with the decision maker on your case. These hearings can occur in person or via telephone conference. The DRO is an experienced VA employee who is well-versed in VA disability claims and appeals than rating specialists or claims officers who initially review claims.
What happens at a DRO hearing?
The DRO hearing takes place at your regional VA office. If you are picturing a scary courtroom scene or something out of a John Grisham novel, do not fret. It is actually quite informal. You will meet with the DRO at a hearing room in the VA building. The hearing will more closely resemble a back-and-forth conversation than a trial. Your legal representative can certainly attend with you.
The hearing starts with the DRO’s opening statement. This is where he explains the process and what to expect. After that, you or your legal representative can make your argument and present any evidence you have to back it up. The DRO will have your original case file and will review the evidence contained within as well as any new evidence you provide. Expect to receive questions from the DRO as you present your case.
After you have finished making your argument and have presented all your evidence, and the DRO has reviewed it, s/he will make a closing statement. You will not receive a decision immediately but can expect to hear from the DRO within a reasonable amount of time. If the DRO feels you have a strong claim but need additional evidence to back it up, s/he will advise you of that. You can request extra time to gather such evidence before the DRO renders a decision. If the DRO confirms the initial denial in your case, you will receive a Statement of the Case providing more detail about the denial. If the DRO overrules the initial denial and issues a grant of benefits, you will receive a DRO Decision (similar to a Rating Decision).
What if I do not get the result I want from the DRO review?
If you receive an unfavorable decision from the DRO, your appeal is not over. If your claim is in the Legacy system, you can file a VA Form 9 appeal, also known as a substantive appeal, to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals. If your claim is in VA’s New Appeals Process, you may file a supplemental claim, request a higher level of review, or submit a Notice of Disagreement to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals.
Call Chisholm Chisholm & Kilpatrick LTD for your free consultation today.
Whether you choose the traditional review process or the DRO review process, the fact remains that VA disability cases are notoriously complex and nuanced. It can be difficult to receive a favorable outcome when you fight the case on your own. The attorneys at Chisholm Chisholm & Kilpatrick LTD have years of experience fighting to get our clients the benefits to which they are rightfully entitled. We will pursue your case aggressively and fight for a successful outcome.
Call today for a consultation: 401-331-6300.
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