Unlocking Earlier Effective Dates Using Favorable Findings in VA Disability Claims
Welcome to VA Made Easy, your trusted resource for veterans aiming to navigate the intricacies of VA disability claims successfully. I’m Ed Farmer, and in today’s insightful blog post, we’re uncovering a unique strategy that could help you secure an earlier effective date for your VA disability benefits by leveraging favorable findings.
Understanding the Power of Favorable Findings:
Since the implementation of the Appeals Modernization Act (AMA) in 2017, the VA appeal system has seen significant changes. One pivotal shift is the requirement for VA decision letters to explicitly outline “favorable findings” related to your claims. These findings, often tucked away in the depths of the decision, highlight aspects like current disabilities or in-service events that the VA acknowledges. Once the VA establishes these favorable findings, they become binding for subsequent adjudicators—unless clear and convincing evidence suggests otherwise. These findings act as a safeguard, preventing the VA from reversing their decisions.
The Flawed Notice and Its Implications:
Sometimes, however, you might find that the VA’s notice or rating decision fails to highlight these favorable findings. This situation isn’t just a minor oversight—it carries significant consequences. Under the new law, if your regional office issues a decision after February 19, 2019, without properly notifying you of favorable findings, the decision isn’t deemed final. This lack of finality means there’s no time limit within which to appeal, potentially allowing an earlier effective date to remain in play.
Your Due Process Rights and Appeal Timing:
It’s essential to emphasize that this concept applies exclusively to claims under the AMA, decided after February 19, 2019, and only at the regional office level—not the Board of Veterans Appeals. Failure to provide the complete notice required by the statute essentially disrupts the decision’s finality. Legal precedents from the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims and Federal Circuit uphold the notion that incomplete notice abates the decision’s finality.
Strategizing for an Earlier Effective Date:
To maximize this strategy, meticulously review your rating decisions. Ensure that all favorable findings are correctly identified and documented. If they’re missing, the decision remains pending, and your claims aren’t finalized. To illustrate this concept, consider the following example:
1. Veteran files a PTSD claim on February 20, 2020.
2. VA denies service connection for PTSD on June 15, 2020, without mentioning favorable findings.
3. You submit a supplemental appeal on March 20, 2022 (over a year after the last denial).
4. VA grants service connection for PTSD on June 15, 2022, with an effective date of March 20, 2022.
Crafting Your Argument:
In this scenario, your argument would revolve around the incorrect effective date. You can contend that the VA never issued formal findings on February 20, 2020, rendering the decision non-final. This contention becomes the basis for your Higher Level Review (HLR) appeal using VA form 20-0996. By explaining to the higher level reviewer that the favorable findings were absent, you pave the way for a potentially earlier effective date.
The Financial Impact:
Consider the financial implications—assuming that the veteran wasn’t service-connected for anything before March 20, 2022, and received a 70% rating on that date. With 25 months of back pay, the veteran could be owed over $36,000! This underscores the importance of carefully examining your rating decisions for favorable findings.
A Roadmap for Success:
While the regional office level and higher level reviewers may struggle with effective date intricacies, pursuing this strategy could lead you closer to an earlier effective date. If the need arises, you might also consider appealing to the Board of Veterans Appeals for further resolution. If you require assistance navigating this terrain, don’t hesitate to schedule a free consultation with me using the scheduling app here: https://calendly.com/vetlawoffice
Remember, you hold the power to influence your VA claim journey. Stay resolute, stay informed, and take proactive steps to secure the benefits you deserve. At VA Made Easy, we’re here to guide you through the complexities, empowering you to make meaningful strides towards a successful VA disability claim. Until our next encounter, keep pushing forward—you’re making a difference.