If you've found your way to this blog, you might be in the unfortunate position where the government has denied you some benefit. No worries, just fill out the right form and the government will correct its mistake, right? For instance, maybe you've just received your letter from the VA about your benefits (which probably starts with "We made a decision regarding your entitlement to VA benefits"). After explaining the denial, the letter ends with an instruction to fill out VA Form 21-0958, Notice of Disagreement, and read through VA Form 4107 if you think they got it wrong. Or, maybe you were injured while in the service, want to go to school, or want to apply for a VA home loan, but haven't because you have a less than honorable discharge because of some misconduct brought on by a troublesome experience during your service. Just fill out DoD Form 293, right? Perhaps there's a simple error in your service records (e.g. your DD-214 identifies your MOS as a cook when you were actually infantry) that needs correcting. An easy afternoon with DoD Form 149 and all is well, right? Unfortunately that is not the case.
Before even beginning to fill out any form you should first gather all the evidence that could apply to your situation. This means requesting your service record, military treatment records, VA claims file, VA C&P exam records, and other treatment records. That, in and of itself, can be an arduous experience and sometimes we have to sue the government just to release a veteran's records to him or her. Your records are not kept in one place - part of the reason our initial intake questionnaire is so long is because of the many requests we send out just to get one veteran's complete records. In some instances, we're able to find records which the government didn't even know it had - records that can make or break your claim for benefits, discharge upgrade, or a records correction.
Besides the help an attorney offers in building your evidence, you also give yourself the best chance for success when represented by an attorney. In 2015, veterans represented by an attorney before the Board of Veterans Appeals had the initial denial either overturned or remanded back to the Regional Office for further review 88% of the time. This is compared to a 66% rate of success for veterans who go it alone, and an average of 80% for veterans represented by a Veterans Service Organization. The government doesn't publish statistics on success rates before the DRB or BCMR, but even for an experienced attorney, an application for a discharge upgrade can take hundreds of hours of work. Yale Law School's Veterans Legal Services Clinic recently filed a class action lawsuit over the government's uneven application of its own guidance.
Bottom line, don't leave the benefits you've earned to chance. Here at Veterans Appellate Law Group, we can take care of that first step for you and gather your records. Even if we can't take your case, we'll do our best to guide you through the next steps in getting the benefits you've earned.