The U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, or CAVC, is a federal court in Washington, DC with jurisdiction over decisions made by the Board of Veterans’ Appeals (BVA). The CAVC, or Veterans Court, established by Congress in 1988, reviews cases that claimants (appellants) appeal and makes determinations using case files, written arguments (briefs) from both parties, and conferences.
Why did Congress establish the CAVC?
Prior to the formation of the CAVC, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) was the only department sheltered from judicial review. The VA had the final word on all veterans’ cases. Before the CAVC, if the VA denied your claim, your fight for benefits was over.
Legislators and veterans’ advocates realized the need for change and a fair judicial review of veterans disability claims. So, in 1988, President Reagan signed the Veterans’ Judicial Review Act into law, which effectively established the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims — and for the first time, gave veterans the right to seek relief outside of the VA.
Initially, the VA opposed the formation of the court, perhaps wary of having its decisions come under scrutiny for the first time in history. But the court has been very successful. R. Randall Campbell, former assistant general counsel of the VA noted, “The court is a vital part of the process to ensure that veterans get not only the benefits that they deserve, but also the fair process that they deserve and expect.”
Who makes decisions at the CAVC?
Judges at the CAVC are appointed by the President of the United States with the consent of the Senate. Cases may be decided by a single judge or by a panel of judges. These judges rule on all types of benefits issues brought to it, including disability compensation, educational assistance, survivor benefits, and pension benefits. The judges serve for a term of 15 years.
Currently, the court has nine, permanent, active judges and a number of retired judges that the CAVC can recall to service.
What is involved in the appeals process at the CAVC?
The appeals process begins when a veteran, or representative on behalf of a veteran, files a Notice of Appeal (NOA) with the court. This effectively removes the claim from the VA’s jurisdiction and changes it from a VA claim to an appeal to the Court. The VA then provides a copy of the Veteran’s file to the court, and once the appellant agrees that the file is complete, the court schedules a series of telephone conferences and briefs.
During the phone discussions, called appeal conferences, the parties discuss the issues at hand and try to reach a resolution. These conferences tend to streamline the appeals process and give the veteran and his/her lawyer a chance to share with the Court pertinent facts about the case and the BVA’s decision. If the parties have not reached a resolution by this time, the CAVC judge will review the file and briefs, request oral arguments if necessary, and issue a final decision.
You can read more about the appeals process at the CAVC here.
Do I need an attorney to help with my veterans claim appeal?
Filing an appeal with the CAVC on your own (i.e., pro se) is ill-advised. The Court processes can be quite confusing for a non-lawyer and you certainly do not want to harm your chances of winning your case because of a simple error or lack of information. It is in your best interest to have a lawyer help you with your Court appeal.
“Pro se appellants are usually at a disadvantage” because, Campbell explains, they “do not have an advocate who is skilled in litigation who is looking out for their interests. They may not understand the administrative process, the legal issues, or the best way to present their case.”
To speak to a member of our legal team, call Chisholm Chisholm & Kilpatrick LTD today at 401-331-6300 and request a free consultation.
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