DoD Appeals and VA Appeals
In order to receive DoD Disability, you need to go through the medical discharge process, during which the Medical Evaluation Board (MEB) and Physical Evaluation Board (PEB) determine whether your conditions are service-connected and whether they make you Unfit for Duty. They then assign VA ratings to each of your conditions that qualify. Depending on their decisions, you are either returned to duty, placed on TDRL, medically separated, or medically retired.
For VA Disability, you need to go through the VA Disability Process. During the process, the VA will determine which of your conditions are service-connected and will then assign ratings to each of your service-connected conditions. The ratings determine the amount of disability benefits you will receive.
If you have carefully reviewed our site and feel that your case was not determined correctly during the DoD Disability Process or the VA Disability Process, or you think you deserve a higher Military Disability Rating, here’s what to do.
How to Prepare for Submitting Appeals
Preparation is essential when submitting appeals.
Make sure that you have ALL of the appropriate documentation that relates to your condition. You should already have everything you need, but it never hurts to review and make sure you aren’t missing anything.
First, gather medical documents from all military, VA, and civilian providers. You need all of your service records, especially anything, like deployment records, that provide evidence of service-connection based on your service circumstances.
Also make sure to gather all other documents that in any way relate to your Military Disability case. This includes any and all correspondence between you and the various Boards or agencies regarding your case.
For example, if you are applying to the Board for Correction of Naval Records, they will need all records and correspondence from all lesser Navy Boards (the Physical Evaluation Board and the Formal Physical Evaluation Board). The higher Rating Authorities discussed below require that all lesser Rating Authorities have been properly passed through before appealing to them. They must see evidence of this, or they won’t consider your case.
Depending on the goal of your appeal, you may want to get signed testimonies from witnesses about your condition and how it impacted your military career and/or impacts your current daily life and ability to work. Testimonies from commanding officers, employers, fellow service members, and family members can all provide helpful perspectives on your conditions.
For DoD Disability cases, you need to submit all the pertinent documents from before separation. If you have evidence from after separation, it can be submitted, but only if it sheds light on the condition at the time of separation. Most post-separation evidence will not be used at all. The DoD only gives Military Disability Ratings to service-connected conditions that make a service member Unfit for Duty at the time of separation, so any evidence that falls after separation won’t matter. Be very careful when submitting evidence from after separation. If it doesn’t give important evidence about the condition at the time of separation, it will probably just end up annoying them (more paper to sort through—not fun, believe me).
For VA Disability cases, you need to submit all pertinent documents from before and after separation. The VA will give VA Disability Benefits to all service-connected conditions, even if they develop after you leave the military, and they will continue to update the ratings for these conditions if they change over time. Because of this, all evidence concerning your conditions, regardless of the date, should be submitted.
Gathering the correct documentation is the most ESSENTIAL step when submitting appeals. If you do not have the proper evidence of a condition, then submitting an appeal would just be a waste of time.
Remember, for a condition to be considered service-connected, there must be official evidence, like medical records, that supports the applicable type of service-connection. If you do not have this evidence, then your condition is not, and will never be, eligible for Military Disability.
We’ve heard many stories of people who were injured while in the service, but never went to the doctor. Now, 5, 10, 20 years later, they want compensation for that injury. Unfortunately, you won’t get anything if there is no definite evidence that the condition did indeed happen while in the military. That’s the law. If you don’t have the documentation, then even the best lawyer won’t be able to get it.
Similarly, if there are definite medical reports about the condition, but one important aspect of the condition was not recorded, that aspect will not be considered when assigning a Military Disability Rating. For example, let’s say you have an elbow injury. The physician recorded that there is pain with motion, but nothing else. Now, after Finding Your Condition on this site, you realize that you should have gotten a higher rating since you couldn’t bend your elbow more than 20°. This won’t be a big problem for the VA since it will take any new evidence and adjust the rating accordingly. Unfortunately, for the DoD, since the physician did not measure and record that specific limited motion measurement at the time you left the military, it can’t be rated.
Once you have all the appropriate documentation, you are ready to submit your appeal.
WARNING: Don’t ever send the original copies of your records unless they are specifically asked for. These records are the basis of your entire disability case, and you can’t afford the hassle of losing anything. Always keep the originals and submit copies of everything.
Note: We’ve listed below only the levels of appeals within the DoD and VA themselves. A case can be appealed in federal courts after these appeals have been attempted, but we don’t recommend doing so without a lawyer.
Submitting DoD Appeals
The DoD Disability Process has 2 levels of appeals within the DoD.
After the Physical Evaluation Board makes its decision, you have to sign a form that states whether or not you agree with the decision. If you do not agree, you can appeal to have their decision reconsidered by the Formal Physical Evaluation Board (FPEB).
If you chose not to appeal to the FPEB and instead agreed with the PEB’s decision, then you’ve missed out on your chance to appeal to the FPEB, but you can still submit an appeal to the DoD’s Level 2 of appeals after discharge.
If you did appeal to the FPEB, but still do not agree with their decision, you can submit a rebuttal. If the rebuttal does not get the results you want, then you can appeal to Level 2 or Level 1a for the Army.
Only the Army and Navy/Marines have appeal options at this level.
For the Army, there are two steps at this level.
The United States Army Physical Disability Agency (USAPDA) reviews every IPEB or FPEB case in which the soldier disagrees with the decision and waives a formal hearing. If the USAPDA decides that the PEB misjudged the case, it sends it back to the PEB for reconsideration. The PEB and USAPDA then go back and forth until the USAPDA approves of the PEB’s decision.
Once the USAPDA approves, the soldier can submit a rebuttal if they still do not agree. If the USAPDA does not revise its decision, the case is then sent on to the Army Physical Disability Appeal Board (APDAB). The APDAB then reviews the case to determine (1) if the soldier received a full and fair hearing, (2) if the proceedings were in line with the laws and regulations, and (3) if the rating decisions were supported by the evidence.
If the soldier does not agree with the APDAB’s decision, they can then appeal to Level 2.
For the Navy and Marines, once the FPEB’s decision is final, but before the service member is officially discharged, they can submit a Petition for Relief (PFR) to the Director, Naval Council of Personnel Boards (DIRNCPB).
NOTE: This can only be done BEFORE discharge. If the service member is separated without submitting a PFR, they simply skip this step and appeal in Level 2.
A PFR can only be submitted if (1) there is new evidence that was not considered by the PEB, (2) there is proof that fraud, misconduct, or misrepresentation occurred during the PEB Process, or (3) there was a definite mistake of the law during the PEB Process.
If the PFR is not granted, then the service member is officially discharged, and they can appeal to the Boards in Level 2.
Note: If you qualify to have your case reviewed by the Physical Disability Board of Review (PDBR), you may not need to appeal to any other Board. If you do not qualify, or if you do not agree with the PDBR’s decision, you can move on to Level 2.
This is the highest level of appeal within the DoD. Each branch of the military has their own Boards to appeal to at this level.
For the Coast Guard, you can apply to the Board for Correction of Military Records of the Coast Guard by mailing DD Form 149 to the address noted on the form.
For the Army, there are actually two different groups that you can apply to depending on the exact circumstances of your case.
– The Army Physical Disability Review Board (APDRB). You can apply to this Board if (1) you were separated from the military because of a medical disability within the past 15 years, and (2) the PEB’s Rating Decision did not entitle you to receive any compensation at all. Basically, you had to leave the military because of a medical condition, but the condition did not rate higher than 0% and so you have gotten nothing from the DoD for that condition.
After applying, this Board will not only review your case, but will also allow you to appear before them to argue your case with legal representation (if you want) and any witnesses you would like to testify.
To apply, you must write a letter stating the following information:
– Your full name
– Your rank
– Your contact information
– Your social security number
– Any and all reasons why you think you deserve a higher rating for your condition (If you’ve found your condition on this site and know that you have proof in your medical records that your condition qualifies for a higher rating, this part should be easy to write.)
– The contact info for your legal representative (If you want one. Our goal with this website is to give you the tools you need to do this yourself, but some cases are complicated enough that legal help would still be a good idea. It’s up to you.)
– The contact info for any witnesses you’d like to testify (Not necessary if you have the proper medical record evidence. Sometimes, however, other people, like your commanding officer, will be able to provide good and definitely powerful testimony of how your condition affected your actual ability to do your job. It could be really helpful to have good witnesses.)
Refer to our APDRB Sample Letter for help. In addition to the letter, include a copy of your Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty (DD Form 214), and all your supporting evidence.
Mail all of the above to:
Army Review Boards Agency
251 18th Street South, Suite 385
Arlington, VA 22202-3531
– The Army Board for Correction of Military Records (ABCMR). This Army Board is the highest authority for all Army disability decisions. Only apply to this Board if (1) none of the other Boards have been able to satisfactorily fix your PEB decision, (2) you are unable to apply to any other Board, or (3) there is a clear error in your military records. Whatever this Board decides is the end-all-be-all for Army disability, so make sure to prepare your case carefully and completely.
To apply, mail DD Form 149 and all supporting materials to the address noted on the form. In addition to all medical records and other supporting materials discussed in the How to Prepare section above, make sure you also include copies of all correspondence with any Boards or individuals regarding your disability case. They’ll only review your case if they see that you’ve tried everything else first before coming to them.
Submitting VA Appeals
You can submit an appeal if you disagree with any part of the VA’s Rating Decision, whether the rating, the service-connection decision, or the effective date.
You do not, however, submit an appeal if you would like the VA to update your rating to reflect your condition over time (increased evaluation), if it has been more than a year and you want to reopen a claim that was denied, or if you want to apply for secondary conditions. In these cases, you apply using VA Form 21-526EZ or online through VA.gov.
There are two levels of appeals within the VA.
Once you have received your Rating Decision from the VA, you can submit an appeal at this level. This level has three review lanes: Higher Level Review, Supplemental Claim, and the Board of Veterans’ Appeals.
The three review lanes are each designed to help streamline the process depending on your appeal type. Choosing the best review lane for your appeal is essential to having it processed correctly.
You need to choose which review lane to appeal to based on the particulars of your case. You can choose different lanes for different issues, but do NOT submit more than one appeal for a single condition or issue. That will really mess things up. So, if you applied for a knee condition and a heart condition on the original claim and disagree with both decisions, but for different reasons (i.e. one is missing evidence, one isn’t), you can submit each condition to different lanes, respectively.
Lane 1. Higher Level Review. This lane is for cases that do not have any new evidence and are fairly straightforward. If the VA made an error and the evidence in the claim clearly proves their error, then this is the lane for you. Differences of interpretation/opinion can also be processed in this lane, however, if you are disagreeing with a standard VA interpretation that they use regularly across the board, a higher level of appeal may still be needed. The majority of appeals that do not have new evidence will be processed correctly in this lane.
To apply to this lane, submit VA Form 20-0996. You must submit this form within 1-year of the VA’s last decision on the issues being appealed.
Once you receive a decision from this lane, if you still disagree, you can submit another appeal to Lane 2 or Lane 3.
Lane 2. Supplemental Claim (New Evidence). This lane is for claims that have new evidence that wasn’t submitted with the original claim. If the VA made a decision about your case, but didn’t have all the evidence and you’d like to submit additional evidence, then this is the lane for you. Only submit to this lane if you have new evidence regarding your conditions that the VA has not yet seen and that provides significant evidence to support your claim.
To apply to this lane, submit VA Form 20-0995. You can apply to this lane any time you receive new evidence that is relevant to the original claim. Your case will be strongest, though, if you apply within 1 year of the last decision made in your case.
Once you receive a decision from this lane, if you still disagree, you can submit another appeal to any of the three lanes, depending on your circumstances (new evidence, none, etc.).
Lane 3. Board of Veterans’ Appeals. If you have a more complicated case that won’t be cleanly processed in the other lanes, then you need to appeal directly to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals (BVA). The BVA has a higher level of authority to make decisions than the other review lanes, and so can better judge more complicated cases.
The first step in applying to the BVA is to submit VA Form 10182, Notice of Disagreement (NOD). You must submit your NOD within 1 year of receiving the decision on your original claim or on an appeal to a different lane.
On the NOD, you will need to choose a BVA review lane. You have three options:
– Direct Review: Choose this if you have no new evidence and do not need a hearing. This option will process the fastest.
– New Evidence: Choose this if you want to submit new evidence but do not need a hearing.
– Hearing: If you want to testify in support of your claim, you can choose to have a hearing. You can also submit new evidence.
Once you receive a decision from the BVA, if you still disagree, you can submit another appeal to Lane 2 with new evidence or you can move on to Level 2 of VA Appeals.
Once you have received your rating decision from the BVA, you can submit an appeal to the US Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims. Appealing to this court is taking legal action against the Secretary of Veterans Affairs. This is the highest level of appeals within the VA.
This court has the power to make exceptions to the law in special cases, so after applying to this court, they may review your case and decide to make exceptions. If not, it will go to trial.
Note: You CANNOT appeal to this level if there is any NEW evidence to be considered. If you have new evidence, then you need to submit it to Lane 2. If you submit any new evidence here, your case will be thrown out.
To appeal to the US Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, submit a Notice of Appeal within 120 days of the BVA’s decision. If it is after the 120-day period, it is too late to submit an appeal.
This court charges a $50 filing fee that must be paid when submitting the Notice of Appeal. It can either be paid by check or money order to the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims. If you can’t afford to pay the $50 fee, you can file a Declaration of Financial Hardship instead.
You can submit the Notice of Appeal to the Clerk of the Court by mail to the address noted on the form, by fax to (202) 501-5848, or by email to [email protected].
These directions are only for filing on your own. If you have a legal representative, there are additional things that must be done. Full details for your representative can be found on the Court’s website.
Once you have submitted your appeal, the Court will contact you with further instructions.
If you do not agree with the Court once they make a decision on your case, you can file a motion for reconsideration within 21 days. Once that time passes, then the Court’s decision is final. The only further option for appeal is if you receive new evidence. You then can submit that to Lane 2.