Below are some common legal terms in plain English you may need to know. These definitions may help you understand the appeals process.
A review of your case by a higher court. For example, if you disagree with the BVA’s denial of your benefits claim, you can “appeal” it to the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims – ask the Court to review it.
The person who filed the appeal. You will always be the “appellant.”
Your opponent in Court. The “appellee” will always be the Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) at the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims.
The course an appeal takes when you ask a higher court to review.
Board of Veterans' Appeals ("BVA" or "Board")
The Board reviews the claims decisions by the Regional Offices of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). If the Board denies your claim, you can appeal that decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims and ask the Pro Bono Program for a lawyer to represent you. See their website for more information.
A written legal argument.
Your initial application for VA benefits.
Clear and Unmistakable Error ("CUE")
You are saying the result would have been different if not for the error made. This is a type of motion (CUE motion). Examples may include: a rating reduction or a rating severance where there was a failure to apply or follow requirements of a regulation; a requirement of a nexus for chronic diseases diagnosed in service; or a misapplication of regulations for granting service-connection based upon presumption of aggravation.
A percentage of your benefits award that some private lawyers will collect as their fee if they successfully represent you in front of the VA. The Pro Bono Program will never charge you a “contingency fee” and will never ask for a portion of your claim.
Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)
The VA will decide on your initial claim for benefits. If the VA denies your claim, you may begin the appeals process, first by appealing to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals and, if necessary, to the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims. Ultimately, the VA will determine the amount of any benefits you receive.
Your docket number is the six-digit number assigned to your case by the Court.
A fundamental right that all legal proceedings will be fair and that you will be given notice and an opportunity to be heard. An example of a denial of due process would be something such as you requested a personal hearing and the VA failed to schedule one. Another example would be if the VA failed to issue a Statement of the Case.
(See Retainer Agreement).
Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA)
A federal law that allows the government to pay your lawyers’ fees and expenses – but only if you are already represented by a lawyer and if you won your appeal before the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims. An EAJA award does not affect any award that you receive from the VA. This fee does not come out of your benefits. It is not paid by you in any way.
File an appeal
How you ask the Court to review your case. File means that you have mailed, hand delivered, faxed or emailed your Notice of Appeal to the Court and the Court has confirmed that they have received it.
Your active military service substantially prevents you from filing a Notice of Appeal.
An issue in your case that can appropriately be argued before the Court. Your case must have some “merit” for a lawyer to present an appeal to the Court on your behalf. The Pro Bono Program or your lawyer will review your case to see if they can find enough “merit” for an appeal.
Motion for Reconsideration
You ask the BVA to reconsider any part of its decision.
Motion to Vacate
You ask the BVA to cancel their decision.
These are the motion(s) you file.
Power of Attorney
A document that authorizes someone, such as a lawyer or the Pro Bono Program, to take certain legal actions on your behalf. You are always free to revoke (cancel) that “power of attorney” at any time.
The rules of the Court you must follow to file an appeal.
If the Court agrees with your appeal of a BVA decision, it will “remand” – or send back – your case to the BVA for additional action. The Court very rarely reverses the BVA’s decision itself. Instead, the BVA reviews its original decision as directed by the Court.
An agreement or contract between you and another party, either the Pro Bono Program or a lawyer.
Statement of the Case
The VA must provide you with a Statement of the Case after they receive your Notice of Disagreement with their decision. This is a written document that summarizes your claim and their decision. It outlines facts and law related to your case.
The current standing of your case. The BVA status line will tell you where your case stands with the VA or BVA. In other words, if it has been approved, denied or is pending.
Stay of Proceedings
The Court can “stay” or delay your appeal proceedings, either on its own or upon a request from one or both parties. You would typically see a “stay of proceedings” while your lawyer and the VA discuss questions about your appeal. The Pro Bono Program may request a stay while evaluating your case.
U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims (the Court)
This is the court that will hear your BVA appeal. It is an independent Federal Court that reviews decisions issued by the BVA. The Court is not part of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Once your claim is denied by the BVA, you can appeal that decision to the Court. You can ask the Pro Bono Program for a lawyer to represent you in front of the Court. See their website for information about the Court.
The Veterans Consortium Pro Bono Program (Pro Bono Program)
Funded by a congressional created grant in 1992. The Pro Bono Program provides assistance to unrepresented veterans or their family members who have filed appeals at the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims. The Pro Bono Program also recruits and trains volunteer lawyers in veterans’ law.
(Also, see Merit). Your case must have an issue that can appropriately be argued before the Court. Your case must have a “viable claim” (a claim with merit) for a lawyer to present an appeal to the Court on your behalf.
You may ask the Court to waive – or give up – their right to collect a filing fee by filing a Declaration of Financial Hardship Form.