Editor’s note: This is the fourth in a series of five blogs focusing on appeals.
In my previous three posts, I discussed the difference between a claim and an appeal, the appeals process that occurs at the VA regional office and at the Board of Veterans’ Appeals. If you have not read those posts, I suggest that you do, as this post builds upon those.
Just like in the federal court system, where a superior court has the ability to remand — or send back — an appeal to a lower court for another look, the Board of Veterans’ Appeals has the ability to remand a case back to the regional office.
While the Board has the ability to remand, it uses the remand differently than a typical court system. In a typical court system, a higher court usually remands a case when a lower court interprets a law incorrectly. In VA’s circular system, appeals are remanded for many reasons. A remand may be necessary if there has been a change in law, a worsening of a disability on appeal or the Veteran introduces new evidence or theory of entitlement at the Board.
Typically each time one of these things happens, a rule of law called Duty to Assist (DTA) is triggered. DTA is an obligation VA takes very seriously. It means VA has to help you develop your claim. Often, this means scheduling you for another exam, gathering records on your behalf or giving you an opportunity to comment since a law change. About two-thirds of the Board’s remands are for reasons that arose after VBA finished processing the appeal and sent it to the Board.
Appeals are remanded for many reasons…if there has been a change in law, a worsening of a disability on appeal, the Veteran introduces new evidence or theory of entitlement at the Board or if the regional office did not process your claim correctly.
Appeals are also remanded if the regional office did not process your claim correctly – usually the result of insufficient evidence gathering. While the number of these avoidable remands has declined considerably in recent years, we continue to work to improve our processing accuracy.
If the Board remands your appeal, the judge will lay out clear steps which the regional office must complete before issuing another decision on your appeal. After completing the required steps, the regional office will make a new decision that either continues the prior decision or grants your appeal. If it continues the prior decision, you will receive a supplemental statement of the case (SSOC) and your appeal will be returned to the Board for a final decision. The Board reviews your case again and renders another decision. Because of updates to laws and evidence, this remand cycle may happen more than once.
In my last post, I told you that if the Board denied your appeal, you could appeal within 120 days to the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims (CAVC). If CAVC remands your appeal back to the Board, the Board may issue a remand back to the regional office to follow through on any development actions the CAVC has instructed of VA.
In my next post, I will review all the tips covered in the last four pieces on the appeals process. As always, I look forward to your comments.