One thing that I always do after finishing work on a case is to go back over the veteran’s claims file and make sure that all effective dates for VA awards are correct. There are very special rules that apply to effective dates for VA awards and sometimes the VA overlooks a law or a piece of evidence that might entitle the veteran to an earlier effective date.
One VA regulation provides, in essence, that a veteran who submits “new and material” evidence within a year of receiving a rating decision (or within 60 days of receiving a Statement of the Case) to have that evidence considered as though it were part of the claim that he previously filed. This is important because VA will look at the date that the veteran’s claim was filed when assigning an effective date for the award of benefits.
So, let’s say that a veteran filed a claim for headaches in June 1999. In June 2000, the regional office issued a rating decision denying the claim. In May 2001, the veteran submitted new evidence to the regional office confirming that his headaches were the result of active service. In October 2001, the regional office granted the claim. What is the date that the award should be made effective? That VA regulation I mentioned earlier permits the veteran to go all the way back to June 1999. Were that regulation not in place, the veteran would likely be assigned an effective date of May 2001, the date he filed his new evidence, and he would have missed out on nearly two years of benefits. You can see how this regulation can be useful.
I bring all this up now because the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, which practically speaking is the highest court that reviews veterans’ cases, recently issued a decision on this regulation. The name of the case is Beraud v. McDonald and you can easily access it from the Federal Circuit’s website. It’s an important case, in my view, and one of the things that it teaches is that VA isn’t allowed to ignore those instances where the veteran submits new and material evidence within a year of a rating decision. The case highlights that if VA ignores evidence in these circumstances and the veteran is awarded benefits many years later after a new claim has been filed, the VA may have to pay the veteran all the way back to the original claim. Of course mistakes in these instances are almost never obvious, and that’s why I always go back and take a careful look at my client’s files to make sure everything that the VA did is correct.
Is New Material Evidence Relevant to the Effective Date of Your VA Award?
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