The time it takes VA to decide a particular claim depends on a number of considerations including the type of claim, the completeness of the application, the availability of service and medical records, the particular regional office where the claim was filed, and the backlog of cases already filed. There is no required time period within which VA has to make a decision on a claim. There is also no penalty to VA from delay, even excessive delay. Great patience is required because most claims are now taking many months for an initial decision.
The VA claims process is horribly overburdened and VA has a huge backlog of applications awaiting decision. Other than filing the most complete application possible and quickly responding to VA requests for follow-up information, there is little that a claimant can do but wait for VA to complete its work and issue a decision. This can be frustrating, especially because VA rarely provides any update and when it does the information is usually little more than a boilerplate "we are continuing to work on your claim" letter.
Unless there is a significant delay – on the order of a year or more – without any correspondence from VA, there is little chance that badgering VA or asking for a Congressional inquiry will be helpful. In many cases, a claim can be further delayed because VA may pull the claims file from the pile waiting for decision to prepare a response to the request for information, which is almost always "we are working on it" anyways.
When VA makes a decision, the claimant will be notified in writing. The notification will contain a cover letter and a rating decision. Claimants should read both of these documents very carefully and seek help if there is anything that they do not understand.
The cover letter will state what VA decided and what to do if you disagree with the decision. The "Rating Decision" is the official explanation of what VA decided and why. The decision will also list the evidence that VA considered and contain a discussion of the reasons for the decision on each claim. If the claim was for multiple conditions or multiple benefits, a claimant should carefully check on how each condition and benefit request was decided and make sure that all pending items were addressed.
Claimants should look at the date of mailing of the rating decision. This is very important because if a claimant disagrees with any part of a rating decision, he or she has one year from the date of the mailing of the rating decision to notify VA of the disagreement and start the appeal process. Note that the date of the Rating Decision and the cover letter are often different. Unless there are very rare and extraordinary circumstances, it is the date on the cover letter that is important if a claimant disagrees with a decision and wants to appeal.