How to Appeal if the VA Denies You Disability Benefits

If you are denied veterans disability benefits, here's how to appeal.

By , Attorney · Northeastern University School of Law
Updated by Diana Chaikin, Attorney · Seattle University School of Law

If you applied for veterans disability compensation benefits and the VA sent you a letter denying you benefits, you have the right to appeal the decision. You have one year from the date on the denial letter to file your appeal by submitting a Decision Review Request (formerly called a Notice of Disagreement or NOD) to the VA office that issued your ratings decision. You can also choose how you'd like the VA to review your appeal.

What Type of Appeal Should I Choose?

You have three options—each with its own specific Decision Review Request form—when deciding how you'd like to appeal your denial:

  • higher-level review
  • supplemental claims, or
  • board appeals.

The best type of appeal for you generally depends on whether you have new evidence that you want to submit to the VA. But if you change your mind, you're allowed in some cases to switch to a different kind of review from the one you originally chose.

You can change your appeal process by sending a new decision review request form within a year from the date of your VA decision. Include a letter explaining why you changed your mind. (Keep in mind that you can't select a different appeal option if you already submitted your evidence or had a hearing.)

Higher-Level Review

In a higher-level review, an experienced senior level VA benefits reviewer will look at your claim with fresh eyes—a legal standard called de novo review—meaning they won't consider the previous VA decision denying you benefits. You should choose a higher-level review if you think the VA made a mistake when deciding your claim, but you aren't submitting new evidence.

The VA aims to complete higher-level reviews in an average of 125 days (four to five months), so it might be the option for you if you don't have additional evidence and want to get a decision faster. To file for a higher-level review, fill out VA Form 20-0996, Decision Review Request: Higher-Level Review.

The form will ask you if you want to have an informal conference with a senior reviewer. You can choose to schedule a time to speak with the reviewer over the phone to discuss your case, including why you think the denial was wrong. Requesting an informal conference will increase the amount of time it takes to complete the review, however, so you might want to submit a written statement with your application instead, pointing out errors in the VA's decision.

Supplemental Claims

If you have new and relevant evidence that you believe supports your claim for disability benefits, you may want to file a supplemental claim. New and relevant evidence means that you didn't submit it to the VA in the past and it proves or disproves something in your claim (such as service-connection).

When you file a supplemental claim, a reviewer will determine whether your original decision should be changed based on the new evidence submitted. The VA will even help you gather new evidence.

You can file a supplemental claim by filling out VA Form 20-0995, Decision Review Request: Supplemental Claim. If you want the VA to get medical records from your private health care providers, you'll need to include VA Form 21-4142, Authorization to Disclose Information to the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Board Appeals

When you request a board appeal, a veterans law judge who works at the Board of Veterans' Appeals in Washington, D.C., will review your case. A board appeal is conducted in one of three methods:

  • Direct review. A judge will review your appeal based on evidence already submitted (no new evidence is allowed) without a hearing. Direct review is the fastest method for a board appeal, taking on average one year for the board to complete.
  • Submit new evidence. You can submit new evidence for the judge to review. You'll have to submit the evidence within 90 days after the VA receives VA Form 10182, Decision Review Request: Board Appeal. Submitting new evidence increases the time the board will take to review your appeal, averaging 550 days (1.5 years).
  • Request a hearing. You can request a hearing where you can present new and relevant evidence, either at the hearing or within 90 days following a hearing date. Adding evidence is optional and will lengthen your appeal process, which takes an average of 730 days (2 years). The VA will write down the conversation you have with the judge and add the transcript to your appeal file.

If you choose to request a hearing, you can speak with the veterans law judge either virtually from your home, at a videoconference hearing held at your local VA office, or testify in-person in front of the board. The judge will listen to discuss why you should receive disability benefits and may ask you (or your representative) questions about your claim, and may ask you to attend a VA medical exam following the hearing.

What Should I Write on the Decision Review Request?

In your Decision Review Request, tell the VA that you disagree with the decision. You don't have to tell the VA all the reasons that you disagree in the form, and in fact it may not help your appeal if you try to list all the reasons. Keep it general—that way, if you forget to mention an issue, you can still add that issue to your appeal later on.

Also tell the VA that you're appealing the decision. Again, you don't have to tell the VA the specific decisions you disagree with. The important thing is to state your intent to appeal the decision to deny you benefits. If you do provide details about why you disagree with the denial of benefits, make sure to mention that your disagreement isn't limited to the issues you mention. State that you disagree with all of the decisions in the denial letter and ratings decision.

Send your Decision Review Request to the VA Regional Office that sent you the denial letter. Sign it and keep a copy before you put it in the mail. Send it certified mail so you can prove you met the filing deadline.

What Happens After I File My Appeal?

After you file your appeal, you don't need to do anything unless the VA sends you a letter asking for more information. If you get a letter scheduling you for a medical exam, make sure that you attend.

Once the VA has made a decision on your claim, you'll receive a decision packet that includes detailed information about how the VA determined whether your appeal was successful. If you won your disability claim on appeal, your effective date (the day the VA starts paying you disability benefits) will be based on your initial application.

If you don't agree with a decision made after a high-level review or supplemental claims request, you can still request a board appeal and have a judge decide your claim. If you don't agree with a decision made by the board, you'll need to file a written Notice of Appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims within 120 days after you received the board decision.

The Legacy Appeals Process for Older VA Disability Claims

The VA changed its appeals process effective February 19, 2019. If you're still appealing a disability decision that was dated before February 19, 2019, you'll need to go through what the VA calls the "legacy" appeals process. But you're allowed to opt-in to the new system at two points in the legacy process.

You have a legacy claim if you filed a Notice of Disagreement (Form 21-0958) within one year of the date on your decision letter. The VA then reviews your appeal, including any new evidence, and sends you back a Statement of the Case (SOC). If you don't agree with the SOC, you'll need to submit VA Form 9, Appeal to Board of Veterans' Appeals. (You can switch over to the newer appeals process at this time instead of submitting Form 9.)

If you decide to stick with the legacy process, the VA may prepare a supplemental SOC (giving you another chance to switch to the new system) before sending your case to the Board of Veterans' Appeals. At the board, a judge will review your claim and make a decision. If you're seriously ill, you have the right to have your appeal "advanced on the docket," meaning it takes priority over older claims. You can also request to have a hearing in front of the judge.

How Do I File My Appeal?

Whether you're requesting a higher-level review, supplemental claim, board appeal, or using the legacy process, the VA makes it easy to file your appeal online. You can track your claim or appeal progress at the VA's online tracker.

You can also print and mail the forms you need for your appeal to the following address:

Department of Veterans Affairs
Claims Intake Center
PO Box 4444
Janesville, WI 53547-4444

Or, you can file your appeal in person or over the phone with your local VA office. If you need help with your appeal, you can get help with your decision review from a Veterans Service Organization (VSO) representative. You may also wish to hire an attorney who specializes in helping veterans get disability benefits, especially if you're requesting a hearing with a judge.

Updated June 5, 2023

Talk to a Lawyer

Need a lawyer? Start here.

How it Works

  1. Briefly tell us about your case
  2. Provide your contact information
  3. Choose attorneys to contact you
Get Professional Help

Talk to an attorney.

How It Works

  1. Briefly tell us about your case
  2. Provide your contact information
  3. Choose attorneys to contact you