Appeals: Informal conference offers clarity, feedback in higher-level decision reviews

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May 6, 2022
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Veterans seeking a higher-level review (HLR) of a benefits claim decision have a powerful tool to communicate directly with a higher-level reviewer. It’s called an informal conference.

The HLR is a part of the Veterans Appeals Modernization Act of 2017 (AMA). As part of the HLR process, VBA offers an optional one-time informal conference.

How it works

An informal conference is an opportunity for a Veteran or their representative to speak directly with a higher-level reviewer assigned to complete the decision review. Veterans or their representative can point out errors in fact or law in their prior decision based on the record at the time the decision was issued, but they cannot introduce new evidence. VA will listen and will render a decision to overturn, uphold or return issues for additional information based on all information discussed during the conference.

“Informal conferences give Veterans a chance to be heard and to present on the errors in fact or law they believe may have impacted their prior decision to a higher-level reviewer,” said Timothy Sirhal, the acting executive director of VBA’s Office of Administrative Review. “We want every encounter with VA to be an excellent customer experience.”

How to sign up

Signing up for a HLR informal conference is easy. Complete VA Form 20-0996, Decision Review Request: Higher-Level Review, online, and choose the informal conference option. VA must receive the request for an informal conference at the time it receives the HLR application.

The AMA modernized the appeals process to facilitate earlier claims resolution by providing three review options for disagreements with claims decisions. The three review options under AMA consist of:

A new review of the decision by an experienced adjudicator who did not participate in the prior decision, with no submission of new evidence. This review provides the possibility of overturning the decision based on difference of opinion or identifying a deficiency in VA fulfilling its duty to assist in obtaining evidence relevant to the decision under review.
Supplemental Claim. New and relevant evidence may be submitted to support your claim, and VA will assist in developing the evidence.
Appeal directly to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals.

To learn more about the informal conference process, please see VA’s Informal Conference Fact Sheet. You can learn more about the decision review process here or read the AMA here.

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