On September 25, 2014, the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) published its Final Rule for Standard Claims and Appeals Forms in the Federal Register, Vol. 79, No. 186. The Final Rule includes momentous changes in how VA will conduct business via VA forms. First, VA has abolished the Informal Claim. Old rule 3.157 no longer exists and Rule 3.155 has been extensively amended. VA has replaced the Informal Claim with a concept called Intent to File. The Intent to File is VA Form (VAF) 21-0966. The Intent to File acts as a “place holder” – preserving the effective date for claims filed within one year of the Intent to File. There are, however, some very important details about how to use this new legal instrument that are crucial to understanding how this “place holder” functions. This is especially true when a veteran intends to file multiple claims after VA receives the 21-0966. Reading and understanding the new regulations – 38 C.F.R. 3.155, and allied sections, is vital.
VA also will refuse to accept any Notices of Disagreement (NODs) for compensation decisions that are not submitted on the Standard Notice of Disagreement Form, VAF 21-0958. Rules 20.201 and 19.24 are important because filing an NOD on a typewritten letter, for example, will not initiate the appellate process. Veterans will need very clear advice that from March 24, 2015, onward, a veteran must file the standard form to receive a Statement of the Case and the ability to proceed to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals or higher in the appeals system.
Lastly, a representative or veteran must file any new claims on standard VA forms (e.g., 21-526, 21-534, 21-526EZ, 21-526b). VA is heavily promoting the use of web-based digital filing, and everyone with an eBenefits account or an account in the Stakeholder Enterprise Portal will have access to these forms digitally. The advantage of using digitally available standard forms is processing speed, and even more attention grabbing is that evidence submitted electronically is automatically uploaded into the VA’s Veterans Benefit Management System (VBMS). By uploading standard forms and evidence via web-based systems, the veteran completely avoids all of the potential pitfalls when using the Evidence Intake Centers or the AOJs.
If VA’s plan works reasonably well, then March 24, 2015, could – in the future – become the anniversary of when VA finally turned the corner and started to impose control on the sprawling, unwieldy, delayed and “near collapse” compensation system.