[Reprinted here with permission from Veterans Law Blog]
A de novo review is your other option. de novo, which means “new,” or “fresh look,” is a Latin term used by lawyers. In a de novo
review, a DRO, who is a senior-level, highly experienced claim processor, looks at all the evidence of record (your entire claims file, including any new evidence you’ve submitted). The DRO can grant your appeal, deny your appeal and issue an SOC, or order additional development (such as a new medical exam or a request for additional medical records), if warranted.
There are DRO Conferences (informal phone calls with the DRO) and DRO Hearings (formal recorded hearings at the VA Regional Office).
3 Things You Want Out of a DRO Review.
#1 Grant of the Benefits you seek.
This is the obvious favorable outcome. The VA DRO Review concludes that the initial rater erred and that you are entitled to a full grant of all the VA Benefits you seek.
Just beware – Veterans and the VA have very different ideas about what is a “full grant”. Veterans think a “full grant” is everything that they asked for. The VA thinks a “Full Grant” is whatever they decided, regardless what the Veteran claimed. I’ll let you guess who is right.
The VA use of the “Full Grant of Benefits” language in just about every DRO Ratings Decision that includes a grant of some benefits is misleading, at best.
#2: Statement of the Case (SOC)
Why is this favorable, you ask? After all, you were denied.
The only time you know for absolute certain that your C File is on a Rater’s desk is when ou receive a decision letter from them.
So, if you get a Statement of Case (SOC) from the VA, you know that they have your C-File on their desk – if you can turn around and submit the VA Form 9 directly to the DRO, you stand a pretty good chance of shaving 1-2 years off the time you have to wait for a BVA Hearing.
The average wait time for BVA hearings after submission of the VA Form 9 is 2 years and 3 months… if you can cut that time down by having the DRO commit to issuing a Statement of Case within 30 days of the DRO hearing, you can help to shave a bit of the wait time off your appeal.
#3: Compensation and Pension Exam (C&P)
The third favorable outcome of a VA DRO Review is to get the DRO to agree to schedule a Compensation and Pension exam.
Why is this a favorable outcome?
Because you want the VA to go “on the record” first with a Medical Opinion letter….if it’s adverse, you can get a private medical opinion to counter the VA C&P exam opinion.
Then they are “trapped” – if they get a second opinion to counter your expert, they are committing an error known as “Development to Deny”.
Here’s the Key to a VA DRO Review.
Know what outcome you want – going into the DRO Review.
Choose whether you want Option #1, Option #2, or Option #3, and then build your case and arguments accordingly.
Read how one Veteran did that in this DRO Review Case Study.
This Veteran first found out at the VA DRO Review that the VA DRO did not think his claim was on appeal. But he had a strategy going into the DRO Review, and handled the situation gracefully and really helped his claim out – even though he wasn’t expecting what he ran into.
His approach is equally applicable to other Veterans seeking a VA DRO Review.