HomeVeterans Guide to VA BenefitsFiled Claim - What Happens Next?Appeals to the Veterans Court

14.14. Appeals to the Veterans Court

A disappointed appellant can also appeal an unfavorable Board decision to the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, known as the "CAVC" or "Court." The CAVC was established by Congress in 1988 to provide a further level of review for claimants denied benefits. The Court exists primarily to review Board decisions for legal errors. As a practical matter, this means that a claimant-appellant must identify a legal error in a Board decision to win an argument before the Court. Simply disagreeing with a Board decision is not enough to win an appeal at the Court.

Unlike a motion for Board reconsideration, an appeal to the Court has a very specific period in which to file for Court review. To appeal to the Court, an appellant has 120 days from the date of mailing of the Board decision to file a "Notice of Appeal" at the Court, not the regional office or the Board. As many veterans have sadly learned, the Court takes this 120-day period very seriously and strictly enforces it. A claimant-appellant wanting to appeal a Board decision should file his or her Notice of Appeal as soon as possible to avoid missing this deadline. VA cannot appeal a Board decision.

The process at the Court is very different than at the regional office or Board. The VA Secretary is now formally an "opposing party" and will argue against the claimant-appellant's position in an adversarial legal action. This means, among other things, that it is now the claimant-appellant's duty to identify the legal basis for his or her appeal and why the Board decision is wrong. Claimant-appellants are also responsible for meeting all the Court's deadlines and following the Court's rules. In other words, VA will no longer assist the claimant in his or her case. So, while claimants can and do represent themselves before the Court, it is much harder to do effectively than when the claim is being developed.

Once a number of procedural matters are completed a claimant-appellant submits a Brief, the Secretary submits his Brief, and the claimant-appellant can submit a Reply Brief. Initially, a single judge is assigned to each case. If one or more of the issue in the case is deemed significant enough, the Court assigns a three-judge panel to decide the case. Oral argument can be requested and, while not common, is scheduled for significant issues.

In its decision, the Court will either (1) affirm (agree with) the Board, (2) remand one or more issues for further development, or (2) reverse (overrule) the Board. Reversals are rare, with the most common result being either affirmation of the Board decision or remand for further consideration by the Board of one or more issues. As with the Board, the Court does not calculate awards or authorize payments, so even if a claimant-appellant wins a fully favorable decision at the Court, the decision and the C-file must be returned, first to the Board and then to the regional office or AMC from which it came.

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