Thomas has successfully handled cases before the Columbia Regional Office, Board of Veterans’ Appeals, Court of Appeals for Veteran Claims, and Court of Appeals for the federal circuit. He has successfully represented veterans in claims involving PTSD, Agent Orange, Individual UNemployability (IU), reductions, and injuries to the knees, shoulders, back and feet, among others.
Unfortunately, while the VA has dramatically decreased the time it takes to make an initial decision, it has done so at the expense of processing appeals. The result is that the time it takes to process an appeal has soared to frequently over two years. I believe the best way to effectively assist you is to make sure your best case is made to the VA during the appeal, so you don't have to suffer an even greater wait later.
A VA appeal is largely a waiting game. My goal is to put together the documents (medical records, opinions, lay statements and memorandum) to make that wait worth it. For perspective, during an October 2017 meeting, the Columbia Regional Office Appeals Coach informed us that Notice of Disagreements older than 1000 days (nearly 3 years old) are being given priority and they are working on Notice of Disagreements older than 730 days (approximately 2 years old). We were also shown a pending inventory of appeals from the Regional Office and it is clear they are focusing mostly on those that had a Notice of Disagreement filed in 2014 and 2015).
Are you Eligible?
Compensation benefits are paid to veterans by the Department of Veteran’s Affairs to compensate for ongoing physical or mental injuries that began or were made worse in connection with service in the armed forces.
You may be entitled to veteran’s compensations benefits if the following apply:
1. You are a veteran of the armed forces,
2. You are currently suffering from a physical or mental impairment,
3. Your impairment began while you were on active duty OR the impairment was aggravated while you were on active duty, and
4. You were discharged under conditions other than dishonorable.
How Much Am I Entitled To?
Veterans’ compensation benefits are paid based on the percentage of disability caused by one or more impairments. Percentages of impairments range from 0% to 100% in increments of 10%. Not all impairments carry the full range of percentage of disability. As your percentage of disability increases, the amount of your monthly benefit increases.
If you have more than one impairment and each impairment has a separate percentage, these will be combined for a total percentage of impairment, they are not simply added together. If the Veterans Administration determines that you have 100% disability or that you are unemployable, you will be entitled to the current maximum benefit rate. Currently a 10% rating equals a monthly benefit of $133 whereas a 100% for a veteran with a spouse and one child is $3,198. In some cases an SMC rating could result in a much higher rating.
Dependent and Indemnity Compensation
If you are a qualifying family member of a deceased veteran, you may be entitled to on-going benefits if the veteran died as a result of a service-connected condition.
Step 1: File a claim for benefits with your regional VA office. In South Carolina, the regional office is located in Columbia.
Step 2: If denied you must submit a notice of disagreement explaining that you disagree with the decision made by the VA. The VA will then frequently have a decision review officer (DRO) review the appeal and either grant a benefit or prepare a statement of your case which will explain the basis for the decision.
Step 3: Once you’ve received your statement of the case, you must file a formal appeal form with the regional office within 60 days of receiving the statement of the case and within one year of receiving your initial denial.
Step 4: Once you’ve appealed your denial, your case is transferred from the regional office to the Board of Veteran’s Appeals in Washington, D.C. The Board will decide whether the regional office made the right decision or not, or whether more development is needed to reach a proper decision. This might mean the Board will send the claim back to the regional office to answer more questions and issue a new decision.
Step 5: If the Board affirms the decision of the regional office, you have the option to request a reconsideration of the Board’s decision. You should request this within 120 days of the denial date. You also have the option to and appeal your case to the Court of Appeals for Veteran’s Claims (CAVC). You should submit this appeal within 120 days of the date of the BVA’s decision.
Step 6 and onward: If the CAVC denies your claim, you have the option to appeal to the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals. Thomas has successfully represented veterans before both the CAVC and Federal Circuit Court of Appeals.
RAMP--Rapid Appeals Modernization Program
The VA's disability adjudicatory process is in a state of flux after the Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act of 2017. The VA has introduced the RAMP program and begun to send letters asking veteran's to opt-in to this new system. The VA states they are hoping to make much quicker decisions if you opt-in (average of 125 days, but note that is not a promise).
You are offered a Supplemental Claim Lane and a Higher-Level Review Lane. The Supplemental Claim Lane is similar to the current system (now frequently called the Legacy system). The Higher Level Review Lane will only take into account evidence that is in the VA's possession when you opt-in (meaning it does not allow for the submission of new evidence) and does not allow the VA to assist you in developing your claim.
In many cases, selecting RAMP might not be a good decision, especially for those of you who have been waiting for a Board of Veterans' Appeals decision for years. It also likely will cost you some procedural rights you have under the current system and we know that if you get a poor decision, the Board of Veterans' Appeals will not start considering RAMP appeals until at least February 2019. Frankly, their is also considerable uncertainty about how good and veteran-friendly RAMP decisions will be. If you receive an opt-in letter, please consider it carefully and consider talking to an attorney.