The Board of Veterans' Appeals is an independent organization within VA that has jurisdiction to review all factual and legal issues in a rating decision without considering how the regional office decided the issues. The Board consists of a Chairman and approximately sixty members who are designated a "Veteran Law Judge" ("VLJ"). Although historically the Board sat in panels of three members, the typical appeal is now decided by a single VLJ.
An appeal can be resolved "on the papers" or following a hearing with a VLJ. Hearings can either be in person in Washington, DC, or at a local regional office or by video conference. Before the Board, a claimant (technically an "appellant" once the appeal is certified) can represent himself or herself or can be represented by a person of his or her choosing, including a service officer, non-attorney agent, or attorney. Board hearings are informal and a claimant can submit written material, such as a summary of the claimant's argument, for consideration by the Board. The Board, however, cannot review evidence not reviewed by the regional office unless the claimant specifically waives regional office review (if evidence is submitted without a waiver, the claim is returned to the regional office for further development).
The Board is required to review all the evidence presented to it and issue a written decision. The Board can grant or deny a claim, or remand (send back) all or part of a claim to the regional office or the Appeals Management Center ("AMC") for further development. The AMC is an office in Washington, DC, that VA uses to assist regional offices on appeals were the claimant is self-represented or has designated a Veterans Service Organization ("VSO") as his or her representative. A Board decision is required to be written and identify the "reasons and bases" for each conclusion. The Board's reasons are important because inadequate reasons and bases are the most common ground for challenging a Board decision denying an award.
If the Board agrees with a claimant – now called an "appellant" – and orders an award, the claims file is returned to the regional office for processing of the resulting benefit payment. Action by the regional office also may include deciding any issues that were not resolved by the Board. For example, if a claim was initially denied and the Board ordered an award, the regional office will need to determine a numerical rating and effective date before payments can begin. In addition, even if the Board decided all the issues for an award, only the regional office can authorize payments. So, unless the Board denies all aspects of an appealed decision, the C-file must be returned to the regional office for additional action.
If the Board agrees with a claimant that the rating decision contained errors but is not sure whether or not a award should be granted, it will order the rating decision withdrawn and require the AMC or regional office to take specific actions to further develop the claim. While not an award, a remand provides a claimant a further opportunity to provide additional evidence in support of his or her claims. On the other hand, a remand means that there will be further delay in resolving a claim.
A claimant disappointed by a Board decision can request the Board "reconsider" or "vacate" its decision. The Board rarely grants reconsideration. If it does, the Board decision will be withdrawn and a new decision issued. A motion for Board reconsideration can be filed at any time.