If you were denied veterans benefits and you have exhausted your appeals (DRO, BVA, CAVC), or you missed the appeal deadlines, you may not be out of luck, and you don't necessarily have to start a new claim for benefits to try again.
While you always have the right to start your veterans benefits claim over again (as many times as you want), it can be a pretty daunting process after you have already been wading through the VA bureaucracy for months or years. There is another option that may be open to you, and that is to request that the VA Regional Office "reopen" your original claim.
What Types of Claims Can be Reopened?
Not all types of VA disability claims are eligible to be reopened. Generally, claims that you can request to have reopened are claims for:
- service-connected disability compensation
- dependency indemnity compensation (DIC), or
- burial benefits.
Other types of benefit denials, such as denials of VA pensions or increased disability ratings, must be refiled as brand new claims.
Does Reopening a Claim Preserve Your Original Filing Date?
Unfortunately, when you reopen a claim, retroactive benefits are not paid to you based on the date you originally filed a claim, but instead are based on the date you filed a request to have the claim reopened.
When Can I Request to Have a Claim "Reopened"?
You can ask to have a veterans claim reopened after you have exhausted all avenues of appeal (and you have been denied benefits each time) or after your rights to appeal have expired because you missed the deadlines for filing. There is no statute of limitations. No matter how much time has passed, you will continue to have the right to request that your claim be reopened.
However, it is to your advantage to make the request as soon as possible to preserve the earliest possible date for a potential lump-sum award of benefits.
How Do I Get a Claim Reopened?
You cannot automatically get a claim reopened. Instead, you must first provide what is called "new and material" evidence to the VA.
New and material evidence is evidence that you didn't submit before, but it can't be just any new medical records you have. It must be so substantial to your claim that it would be unfair for the VA not to reopen the claim to consider it. There has to be at least a reasonable chance that your claim could be proven, and benefits issued, on the basis of the new evidence.
What Counts as "New and Material" Evidence?
For evidence to count as new and material, it must address the specific reasons for the denial of benefits in the final denial that the VA issued to you.
For example, if the VA agreed that your illness was caused by military service but you were denied disability compensation because of a finding that you were no longer ill, submitting statements from your buddies about how sick you got during service is not going to be of any help to you. But if you submitted a letter from a doctor stating that you currently suffer from the same illness you had in service, then that would likely be considered new and material evidence.
This can get complicated, so it can be a good idea to have an attorney help you with the process of trying to get a claim reopened. (To find an attorney, you can read our article about hiring a veteran’s attorney or use our disability attorney database.)
What Happens After the VA Agrees the Evidence is New and Material?
If the VA determines that the new evidence you submitted is substantial enough to change the outcome of your claim, it will then reopen your claim. The new decision about your claim will be based on all the evidence in your file, including the evidence the prior decision was based on plus the new evidence you have submitted.
What if the VA Denies My Claim Again?
If you succeed in getting your claim reopened but still do not receive benefits, you still have the right to appeal the denial of benefits. Read Nolo's article about how to file an appeal for veterans benefits.