The Board of Veterans Appeals (BVA) is an administrative tribunal that helps determine whether veterans are entitled to benefits such as disability compensation. The BVA is different from the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA), which handles the day-to-day functions of making sure veterans receive any benefits they're entitled to, but both agencies are part of the Department of Veterans Affairs.
When you first apply for disability benefits, your claim will be handled by the VBA. If you disagree with a decision of the VBA denying you disability benefits, you can ask the VBA to review your claim and make a new decision.
If you still aren't approved for benefits, you can request a BVA hearing with a Veterans Law Judge.
You can choose how you'd like your BVA hearing to be conducted from one of the following three options:
No matter which method you choose, the hearings are conducted in a very similar fashion. While they do have some formalities, BVA hearings aren't as formal as a typical courtroom.
If you choose to have a virtual hearing, you'll receive an email with the date, time, and a link for accessing the BVA tele-hearing platform. You'll need to have a secure and reliable internet connection, and your phone, tablet, or laptop must have a camera and microphone so that the judge can see and hear you.
For more information, read the VA's fact sheet on the Board of Veterans Appeals virtual tele-hearing option.
If you choose to have a videoconference hearing, you (and your representative, if you have one) will need to be physically present at your local VA office, but the BVA judge will appear virtually from Washington, D.C. You'll show up at the date, time, and location that your hearing is scheduled. After you sign in, you'll be brought into a conference room where there will be a large monitor on which you can see the BVA judge.
If you choose to have your hearing held in person at the BVA, you'll need to travel to Washington, D.C. at your scheduled date and time (the VA won't pay for travel expenses). Each BVA hearing slot in D.C. will have multiple veterans scheduled, and the judge sees each claimant on a first-come-first-served basis, so you should arrive as early as you can.
You'll need to bring information with you to access the BVA Central Office, and you'll need to check in at the Hearing Section of the office. You'll have the opportunity to review your claims file before the hearing, but you should ask to review the file well in advance so that you're familiar with any mistakes the VA made.
Regardless of whether your hearing is conducted virtually, as a videoconference, or in-person, you'll have an opportunity to speak with a Veterans Law Judge from the Board of Veterans Appeals. The judge will have reviewed your file before the hearing. Some judges may conduct a pre-hearing conference before the hearing starts in order to summarize the issues you're appealing and discuss the evidence that is going to be used during the hearing.
At the start of the hearing, you will be sworn in. Your lawyer—if you have one—will make an opening statement. Following that, your lawyer will ask you questions about your disability appeal. These questions may be about the medical treatment you've received for your illness or injury, as well as any functional limitations you have as a result. If you brought any witnesses with you, your lawyer may ask them questions as well.
The BVA judge will also ask you some questions. It's helpful to think of the BVA hearing as a casual conversation between you and the judge. The judge wants to learn more about you, not trip you up with "trick questions." After the judge has finished, your lawyer will make a closing statement. From start to finish, hearings normally last around 30 minutes.
You should address the judge as Mr. Chairman or Madam Chair. Tell the judge why you think you qualify for VA benefits. Answer any questions the judge asks you, and share any new evidence with the judge. Don't downplay your medical symptoms, but don't exaggerate them either. The BVA hearing is your opportunity to tell your story. Above all, be respectful.
You can submit evidence before, during, or after your BVA hearing. Make sure that you time your evidence submission correctly so that you have a better chance of getting your decision faster.
If you choose to submit your evidence before the hearing, be careful about when you submit it. Transferring files from your regional VA office can take several months, and if you submit new evidence before your file is transferred, the regional office will be required to evaluate that evidence—which can result in a longer delay before the BVA can review your case. Make sure to confirm that your file is with the BVA before sending in any new evidence.
Once you've received notice that your hearing has been scheduled, it's generally better to bring new and material evidence to your hearing instead of mailing it in. New evidence is information that the VA hasn't seen before, and material evidence means that the judge can use it to prove or disprove your claim (such as documentation establishing service connection).
Judges will sometimes indicate during your hearing that they need more evidence in order to decide your claim. When this happens, you can ask the judge to hold off on issuing a decision for a limited period of time (usually 60-90 days) so that you can collect and submit the new evidence. In BVA terms, this is called asking the judge to "hold the record open." The judge won't make a decision until the record is closed.
After the hearing is over and all relevant medical evidence has been received, the judge will issue a decision. The judge may send your case back ("remand") to your VA Regional Office to correct any errors that may have been made. Or, the judge may grant your benefits to you or deny your appeal.
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.
Updated June 6, 2023