American Legion veteran appeals representatives shared information on the Legion’s new service officer school, veterans appeals process and virtual board hearings during the Training Tuesday session Oct. 25.
The American Legion’s New Service Officer (NSO) School is an online training program that is available the 11-24 of each month, except March and September. It is free and intended for Legionnaires who have recently become accredited as legal representatives by VA’s Office of General Counsel – or are in the process of becoming accredited. Learn more about NSO School. Legionnaires interested in becoming VA-accredited representatives and enrolling in NSO School should contact their American Legion departments.
The NSO School is part of a three-tiered American Legion service officer training course, which also includes Department Service Officer (DSO) School (held in March and September) and a new Department Service Officer Symposium that is schedule for October 2024 in Leesburg, Va. This will be an “elite training program” for all 55 DSOs that will feature guest speakers and in-depth training.
In September, there were 1,211 informal hearing presentations prepared by American Legion claims specialists, free of charge, to help veterans appeal their denial of VA benefits. And 307 appeals cases from veterans disputing VA benefits decision were ruled in favor of the veteran, thanks to free representation from American Legion benefits specialists.
Tony Cross, a Veterans Affairs & Rehabilitation Division veterans disability claims specialist, shared during the training that there are currently 600 Board of Veterans Appeals cases under the Appeals Modernization Act, and 510 legacy cases, assigned to one of the Legion’s appeals representatives. Through the Veteran Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act of 2017, there are three decision review options for disagreements with benefits decisions – Higher-Level Review (form 20-0996), Supplemental Claim (form 20-0995) and Appeal to the Board of Veterans Appeals.
“The request for higher level review takes on average less time than going to the Board of Veterans Appeals,” Cross said. “The board can take on average one calendar year.”
With the increase of board hearings being virtual for veterans, which has seen an increase of benefits granted granted rate of 56%, Dave Spivey, senior team leader in the Legion’s BVA unit, said it’s important to prepare the veteran in advance of his or her hearing.
“Make sure the veteran has the ability to communicate with the judge (virtually) and make sure that virtual hearing can go without any glitches,” he said. “Communicate with the veteran much earlier than the hearing to make sure the veteran is able to connect and communicate.” Spivey recommended doing a pre-hearing to ensure all will go well during the actual hearing.
Marty Callaghan, deputy director of claims services for The American Legion’s Veterans Affairs & Rehabilitation Division, added that if an American Legion service officer needs help representing a veteran during a virtual board hearing, please email at firstname.lastname@example.org. He advised not to delay or reschedule a hearing when national staff can provide support.
Spivey said that claims have picked up in the last month since the passing of the PACT Act, which expands VA health care benefits for as many as 3.5 million veterans exposed to airborne hazards and burn pits. A question was asked that if a veteran is 100% VA service-connected and they file a claim under the PACT Act, would it affect their current disability status. Callaghan said no.
“The PACT Act has more than 20 new presumptive conditions ( of service connection for toxic exposure-related conditions). There are a lot of veterans who have filed a claim for service connection for some condition and have been denied in the past. Some of those conditions are now presumptive conditions so all a veteran has to do is file another claim,” he said.