On April 19, 2013, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) published VBA Letter 20-13-05, entitled “Guidance Regarding Special Initiative to Process Rating Claims Pending Over Two Years.” The guidance memorandum can be found at the following link: VBA Letter 20-13-05.
In essence, the VA has instructed its Regional Offices to process all initial claims pending more than two years from the date of the VBA Letter 20-13-05. The VA also noted that further guidance will be published for claims pending for less than two years.
For those effected claims, the Regional Offices (ROs) have been instructed to “immediately indentify two-year old cases and develop an aggressive plan to complete these cases as soon as possible but no later than 60 days from the date of this letter.” The effected claims will be processed based on the “available evidence” contained with the VA Claim file.
These claims will fall into two categories: (1) if all necessary evidence is contained in the VA Claim file (or the “rating assigned provides the highest level evaluation authorized for the particular diagnostic code”), then the Regional Office will issue a “final” Rating Decision with the normal appellate rights; or (2) if the Regional Office is still awaiting evidence then they will issue a “provisional” Rating Decision within sixty days. During the one year “provisional” period, the veteran and/or the Regional Office have an opportunity to further develop the claim.
A “provisional” Rating Decision will become final after one year and a “final” Rating Decision will be issued which provides the veteran with the normal appellate rights (i.e. filing a Notice of Disagreement). Further, if the Regional Office is awaiting the certain evidence then the ROs must expedite procedures to secure that evidence, to include: (1) Service Treatment Records; (2) VA medical records; (3) evidence needed to establish veteran status or service dates; or (4) needed VA medical examinations.
Suffice to say, this guidance marks a significant departure from the normal course of VA disability claim adjudication and tens of thousands of Rating Decisions will be issued in the next sixty days. It is now more critical than ever for veterans and claimants to aggressively advocate their claim. Consequently, if you have questions regarding your claim for disability compensation before the VA, please do not hesitate to contact me at sdirector@FRE-L.com or via telephone at (732) 382-6070.