When a veteran is not satisfied with the decision reached by the Regional Office (RO), he/she must file a Notice of Disagreement (NOD). The RO then offers two options for appeal, review by a Decision Review Officer (DRO) or the traditional appeal process. The RO will issue a letter outlining these two options. You have 60 days from the date of the letter to respond with your selection. If you do not respond, your appeal will be sent through the traditional process. In either process, the reviewer can (1) award a full grant of benefits, (2) award a partial grant of benefits, or (3) confirm the original RO decision.
Traditional Appeals Process
This process involves a review of the claims file and any additional information that is submitted. The reviewer can hold a formal hearing with the veteran to gather additional evidence. However, he is only allowed to change the original decision in two instances, (1) new evidence has been submitted, or (2) the original decision was based on clear and unmistakable error. This means the original reviewer made a mistake. The decision can also be changed based on a difference of opinion, BUT the new decision must be approved by the Central Office.
The RO will then issue a Statement of the Case (SOC) explaining the decision. In order to continue to appeal to the Board of Veterans Appeals, you must return the enclosed Form 9 with 60 days of the mailing of the SOC, or within one year of the original decision, whichever is later.
DRO Review Process
This process also involves a review of the entire claims file and any new information that is submitted; however, the DRO considers the evidence without deference to the original decision made by the RO.
DROs can hold formal hearings, just like in the traditional review process, but they are also allowed to hold informal conferences with the veteran or his representative to discuss the appeal.
If the DRO does not award a full grant of benefits, a Statement of the Case (SOC) will be issued and the appeal process will continue in the same way as the traditional appeal process explained above.
Why Should You Choose a DRO Review?
1. DROs are senior level RO employees; therefore, they are more experienced than the average VA decision makers that denied your original claim.
2. DROs have broader powers than regular reviewers. This includes the power to change the original decision without approval from the Central Office.
3. DROs have the ability to hold informal conferences with veterans to discuss the facts or evidence.
4. The DRO process takes, on average, a month longer than the traditional appeals process. This is the time period between when you file a NOD and when you receive a SOC. However, a study by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), found that you are more likely to receive at least partial benefits if you choose the DRO process instead of the traditional appeals process.
5. According to the same report, the average wait time for decision by the Board of Veterans Appeals is more than 1,000 days from the time a NOD is filed. The average wait time for a decision by a DRO is only 266 days from the time the NOD is filed. Therefore, if you receive a partial grant from the DRO, you will begin receiving your benefits much faster than if you appealed directly to the Board.
6. If your claim is not granted by the DRO, you can still continue your appeal to the Board without having to start the process over again.
Overall, the DRO review process gives veterans an additional chance for a favorable decision, is more likely to result in a grant of benefits early on, provides an opportunity to speak directly with the individual making the decision, and does not forfeit the right to appeal to the Board of Veterans Appeals. There is no real downside to choosing this option, and it may end up being more beneficial.
You can find the complete report by the GAO at:
Krystle D. Waldron, J.D. is a May 2011 graduate of William and Mary Law School.