What to Expect at a BVA Hearing for Veterans Benefits
There are three types of BVA hearings, all informal.
The Board of Veterans Appeals (BVA) is part of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), but it is separate from the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA). If you have been denied disability benefits, you can first seek review of the denial at the VBA Regional Office level. Next, you can appeal to the BVA.
There are three different types of BVA hearings you may have: a travel board hearing, a hearing in Washington D.C., or a videoconference hearing. These hearings are conducted in very similar fashion. While these hearings do have some formalities, the proceeding will not be as formal as you would expect in a typical courtroom.
How Hearings Are Conducted
All of these hearings are held before a Veterans Law Judge from the Board of Veterans Appeals. At your hearing, the appropriate way to address the judge is Mr. Chairman or Madam Chair.
The judge will have reviewed your file before the hearing and will summarize the issues you are appealing and discuss evidence that will be used during the hearing. Next, you will be sworn in. If you have a lawyer, he or she will making an opening statement. Following that, your lawyer will ask you questions, as well as ask questions of any witnesses that have come with you. New evidence may also be submitted. The judge will also ask some questions. Finally, your lawyer will make a closing statement.
Hearings normally last about one hour. If you expect to need more than an hour, it is important to request extra time in advance.
Travel Board Hearing
Usually the BVA visits each regional office annually for about five days to conduct travel board hearings. Multiple hearings will be scheduled for each time slot, and hearings get conducted on a first-come, first-served basis. It is to your advantage to arrive early to be one of the first claimants to sign in so you can avoid waiting too long for your hearing.
Hearing in Washington D.C.
The same as with a travel board hearing, a BVA hearing slot in D.C. will have multiple claimants scheduled. So again, the first claimant to sign in will be the first to be heard, and so on. You will need to bring identification with you to access the BVA Central Office, and you will need to check in at the Hearing Section of the office. There will be an opportunity to review your claims file prior to the hearing, although although you and/or your representative should ask to review the file prior to the hearing date.
When you have a videoconference hearing, the Veterans Law Judge is in the hearing room in Washington D.C. and you and/or your representative are in a conference room at your local VA office. Another option is for your attorney to be with the judge in D.C. while you are in the VA office.
The same sign-in system will be used as with travel board and D.C. hearings. You will sign in at your regional office. When it comes time for your hearing, you and your representative, if present, will be brought into a conference room. There may be someone there to provide technical assistance with the equipment. There will be a large monitor on which you will see the Veterans Law Judge.
Special Videoconference Hearing
If you are so disabled that it is a hardship to travel to your local VA office for the hearing, it is possible to arrange a special videoconference hearing at your home. The VA can provide you with equipment to use in your home; your attorney and any witnesses can be at the VA office, and the judge can be in D.C. This will only be permitted, however, if it is virtually impossible for you to get to the VA office or it would cause you a significant hardship to do so. If you need a special videoconference hearing, be sure to request it well in advance.
Submitting Evidence Before the Hearing
Be careful about submitting new evidence before your hearing. It takes many months for your file to get transferred from your regional office to the BVA. If you submit new evidence before your file is transferred, the regional office will be required to evaluate that evidence, which will result in an even further delay before the case can get over to the BVA. Confirm that your file is with the BVA before sending in any new evidence.
Submitting Evidence After the Hearing
Sometimes during the hearing the judge will indicated that new evidence is required to decide your claim. When this is the case, you can ask the judge to hold off on issuing a decision for a limited period of time (normally 60 days or less) so that you can collect and submit the new evidence. What you want to do is ask the judge to "hold the record open."
The Board of Veterans Appeals (BVA) also has the right to obtain new evidence, including medical opinions, before issuing a decision.
What Happens After The Hearing?
After the hearing, the judge will issue a decision. The judge may send your case back to your VA Regional Office (this is called a remand) to correct errors that may have been made. Or the judge may deny your appeal or may grant your benefits to you.
If your case is denied, your next step is to appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims in Washington, D.C. At that point it's smart to retain a VA disability attorney if you haven't already.