Differentiating between a VA Regional Office and the Board of Veterans’ Appeals
For veterans navigating the complex landscape of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, understanding the terrain is crucial.
Veteran services and benefits are channeled through a nationwide network that includes 146 hospitals, 300 vet centers, and 151 national cemeteries. To provide these services, the VA is divided into three different sections: the Benefits Administration, the Health Administration, and the Cemetery Administration.
Within the Veteran’s Benefits Administration, two of the more important entities are the regional offices and the Board of Veterans’ Appeals:
- There are 59 VA regional offices, at least one in each state. In the past, these offices were used to adjudicate local claims and appeals. However, today, the system is more centralized through the National Intake Center and claims and appeals are assigned to either a random regional office or a specialized office, depending on the substantive issues in the claim. Today, VA employees and Veteran Service Officers are still located at the local regional offices to help veterans and their families apply for benefits, education and training, jobs, home loans, life insurance, and other services.
- A veteran who is denied benefits or compensation can appeal to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals. The Board of Veterans’ Appeals is comprised of 1200 employees, including Veterans Law Judges who hear and decide appeals from the Veterans Benefits Administration, the Veterans Health Administration, and the National Cemetery Administration.
The rest of this blog post will take a more in-depth look at the VA’s regional offices and the Board, explore in more depth the differences between them, and explain when veterans might need representation at one level or another.
VA regional offices
A VA regional office, often referred to as an “RO,” serves as the initial point of contact for veterans seeking benefits and assistance.
Here are some key functions of the VA regional office:
- Claims processing: The RO is primarily responsible for processing disability-compensation and pension claims. Veterans submit their claims and the RO gathers and evaluates the evidence to determine eligibility for benefits.
- Rating decisions: After reviewing a veteran’s claim, the RO decides whether to grant, deny, or partially grant benefits and issues a Rating Decision which explains the reasons for the decision.
- Appeals process: A veteran who disagrees with the RO’s decision can initiate the appeals process by requesting a Higher Level Review, submitting supplemental materials with the RO, or appealing to the next level, the Board of Veterans’ Appeals.
Board of Veterans’ Appeals
The Board of Veterans’ Appeals, commonly known as the “BVA” or simply “the Board,” is the next level in the VA appeals process. It operates independently of VA Regional Offices and is headquartered in Washington, D.C. Here are some of the Board’s primary functions:
- Appeals review: The Board reviews appeals from veterans dissatisfied with the RO’s decision. This independent body looks at all the evidence anew. Depending on the lane the veteran chooses, sometimes the Board can also look at new evidence.
- Hearings: Veterans have the option to request a hearing before the Board, either in person or through videoconferencing. During these hearings, veterans can present their cases and provide additional evidence or testimony to support their claims.
- Decision issuance: After reviewing the case, the Board issues a decision granting, denying, or remanding the claims. To remand a case is to send it back to the RO for further development.
When veterans might need representation:
- At the RO level: Veterans often benefit from representation when filing a claim for the first time, filing a supplemental claim, and/or preparing for Higher Level Review. This representation can come from veterans service organizations (VSOs), attorneys, or accredited claims agents. A representative ensures all evidence is submitted and claims are properly prepared for review.
- At the Board of Veterans’ Appeals level: Representation is crucial once a veteran’s claim reaches the Board. If certain arguments are not raised before the Board, the Board will not consider them and the veteran may risk having to start the process over. The appeals process can be complex; having an experienced representative can improve the odds of a favorable decision.
- In between: Under the new Appeals Modernization Act, there are many ways to appeal an unfavorable decision: using a supplemental claim, Higher Level Review, Board Direct Review, Board Evidence Submission, or a Board Hearing. Whether to stay at the Regional Office or escalate the appeal to the Board is a strategy determination that a representative can explain and evaluate with you. Therefore, it is helpful to have a representative when you begin an appeal, despite which lane you ultimate select.
Navigating the VA claims and appeals process can be challenging, but understanding the roles of the VA regional office and the Board of Veterans’ Appeals is essential for veterans seeking benefits. Representation is valuable at all levels and experienced advocates, such as those at Vets National, can make a significant difference in the outcome of a veteran’s case. Contact us today—online or by giving us a call, at 877-777-4021.