Member Denise writes me and says “What to do? Been denied on jetguns and didn’t know I needed a nexus! Fired my VFW rep who is no longer BFF. Found you by accident. I have the letter from my family doctor (attached-please read) and am now debating a DRO vs the regular way to appeal. I have 20 days to file a F-9 or go for the DR thing. What do I do?

I have never been a fan of DRO reviews. With that said, let’s look at what we’re dealing with. If you are denied after you submit your claim, the normal course of events is to submit a Notice of Disagreement or NOD.  You might submit new and material evidence (such as your new nexus) when you are denied. This can occur after the denial and before the NOD or you may submit the new evidence with the NOD. In any case, the VA will respond with either a grant or a Statement of the Case (SOC).  You have two alternatives. vA will present both of these options to you when your denial is continued. You can pursue the normal, traditional appeals process or ask for a Decision Review Officer to investigate this with an eye towards overturning it.

This is why I hate them. vA is going to hang you out for a year on this. Your chances, which were 15% on winning at the outset, are just as bleak at a DRO Review. Unless your evidence is so remarkable as to refute and rebut everything used to deny you, you’re simply going to get a Supplemental Statement of the Case (SSOC) a year or more later saying “We so solly, GI. No can do”.  A SSOC is “What part of No don’t you understand” in vAspeak. The letters are very polite but they are denials.

You may also ask for a hearing before the DR Officer to plead your case. This will drag the timeline out even further before the eventual traditional appeal to DC. Don’t get me wrong. All DRO reviews are not fruitless. Some prevail in the process but I point out that the numbers who do are miniscule.

What many Vets don’t realize is that by submitting new and material evidence after a denial, NOD or at any time in that year following the initial denial, you will get a DRO review of the newly submitted evidence anyway. Once denied, any review of newly submitted evidence is automatically done by a higher up rather than the Rating Officer who did the original denial. Asking for a DRO review is redundant on top of this. If you get a new denial, a DRO hearing is not likely to change the fellow’s mind.

The M21- 1MR Manual forbids VA personnel (and DROs) from bargaining but that is just for show. In fact, many are susceptible to some horsetrading in the back room. This usually occurs in a VSO or lawyer- represented environment. It never occurs on paper. It’s done verbally without tape recorders.  You, as a pro se Vet representing yourself, are not likely to be able to go down and plead your case without a month’s delay in getting an appointment. What inevitably occurs is your representative will proposition the DRO like a prostitute. The quid pro quo will be “How about if my client agrees to take 30% for PTSD and we drop the  Hepatitis claims along with all the secondaries?” While this may be unethical, it happens. I doubt you will hear the DRO offer it nowadays, but it was a bargaining tactic in the 90s when the vA had a more laissez faire attitude about this. Of course in the nineties, it was far more likely that the DRO would proposition your representative rather than the reverse. All that has changed.

Nowadays the DRO might say that your chances of winning claim X are about the same as finding a snowball in Hell.  It would be up to your representative to interpret this as an opening to proffer a trade. Again, the chances of success are slim. This is why I personally don’t see wasting my time hanging around the RO and expecting a miracle-especially where a jetgun claim is involved.

Always remember that everyone at the RO is evaluated in performance reviews. Success is rewarded with bonuses and Attaboy Letters attesting to how well you did the job in any year. Everyone likes a well-endowed trophy wall so the wiggle room is there. A DRO will be recognized for his success in resolving claims disputes and he/she can get the signatures on the grant if there is enough substance to rationalize it. If it furthers his/her career without inviting disaster from above,  it may come to fruition. You will inevitably end up with the short end of the stick in this, but oh well.

I prefer the take no prisoners attack and going straight to DC in jetgun claims. There is no guarantee that if you somehow won, you won’t find yourself in a double DRO review quagmire. I speak of a scenario where you end up appealing the lowball rating they try to pawn off on you. This happens frequently enough to remark on it. We have had innumerable Vets with everything needed to get 40 or 60% for HCV on DC7354 yet vA hands them the 10-20%. They immediately start the NOD process over again and spend a year or two trying to bump it up where it belongs. The medrecs may clearly show the entitlement, but that means nothing if the rater makes no effort to really peruse the file.

vA will tell you not to submit duplicate documents to avoid confusion. Ignore them. If they didn’t read all about your near-constant debilitating symptoms the first go-around, it’s time to take it up a notch with a yellow hi-lighter pen and a nasty letter couched in polite terms. If possible, go back to your doctor and get it in his words. I find that when you show a doctor what vA sends out , they take umbrage with a lowly peon unschooled in the medical arts opining like one. This often induces them to write down whatever you ask within reason. My doctor wrote a glowing letter about why I was never going to get better and how I was precluded from ever doing Interferon therapy. Result? Permanent and Total rating in 90 days instead of two years.

So to you, Denise, I say it’s your choice. Depending on your RO, and I pray its not in Oakland, Seattle or the two in Texas, I would probably say go East, young lady. Since I am not a VSO or a Veterans Representative in the legal sense of the word, my advice is purely hypothetical to avoid lawsuits. Justice in this system seems to improve the higher you go. I don’t think anyone at vA reads your C-file in detail until the first visit to the CAVC and a Joint Motion For Remand issues, so a decision prior to that is a wasted effort but nevertheless one required on the path to victory. Even if you don’t win all the battles, the objective is to win the war. Don’t lose sight of that. You haven’t mentioned anything about possible representation by a lawyer so I assume you are adamant about doing this yourself. Just beware of the pitfalls. They have 500 law dogs arrayed against you. If you lose a DR review, I strongly suggest a leagle beagle in DC. It may be the difference in how long you fight for what you’re entitled to. As for VSOs, you don’t get what you don’t pay for.

One last suggestion would be to read my book. I covered DRO Reviews in it and it will give you a better feel for the process.  And to set your mind at ease, the VFW rep. was never your BFF. It was a fig newton of your imagination.

About asknod

VA claims blogger
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21 Responses to DRO REVIEWS

  1. Tricia LaBar says:

    I am in the DRO now. Had my hearing July 11, 2018. Claim from 1997. VA hospitals records lost. I found by fluke from another doctor that had ordered them when I checked out of VA into private hospital. VA left me paralyzed. I have had to have bowel surgery, colostomy um yuck, bladder surgery due to distended bladder. This doctor at VA said nothing wrong with me…test showed I had a L2 spinal injury but by the time I was transferred to UTSW I had T11 and lost bladder and bowel function. Oh yes, 1151 claim. The PT would push my knees to my chest and cause shocking pain. When I first entered hospital I could walk with help and assistance but 2 months later none. I was denied by Seattle saying the records for my hospital stay were missing and therefore no VA damage could be proved. In 2010 yes 13 years later, I got my records through a lawyer who had requested them and for some unknown reason kept them. I could not believe it. I had the proof. I filed in 2010 and was denied. I was shocked. Now I was told I do not need a comp and penn because I already had one and medically they agreed with the doctors but had to decide if the VA was at fault. Um I found, with no help from VA but through combing through my records the therapist who paralyzed me. She testified at my DRO hearing. I was under the understanding that it would only take 30-60 days to get decision. Now I read this and thing I might as well hire a lawyer. I have one who wants my case.

    • asknod says:

      Tricia, I would get a lawyer on this one in a heartbeat. You cannot win it yourself but you sound like you ave all the ammo. If you need the attorney locally here in Seattle, contact me at asknod@gmail.com and I will see that you find one.

      • Tricia LaBar says:

        Thank you, fired my VSO who seriously was clueless and wasted a lot of time. That does not mean all of them. Hired a lawyer who looked at what I sent them and asked if I was a lawyer. No, I set my file up, wrote my own brief, used the table of contents and colored coded records, exhibits and had the nexus letter from the Dr who had me after the VA who was on the Mayo Clinic board of Neurologist and the UTSW Board. How this has not processed is beyond me and the attorney who said they took the case and really just had to push the decision. It was a well established case. Because of your advise I just heard I should know the decision by December 14th. Wish me luck.

  2. Are you saying going with the DRO appeal made be a waste of time. My DRO APPEAL been going on January 2015 here it is going on nineteen months later, tell me did I make. A terrible mistake going with the DRO Appeal. First they told me it would be 473 days which Came and gone. Then Quote my appeal was in peperation to be mail out something like that. They put new claims with Older Claims if they give a good rating I will not Appeal not sure if that’s the right thing to do I’m thinking about Changing VSO trying to wait till hear from DRO appeal.

    • asknod says:

      If you have no new evidence to submit and /or no new medical nexus letter to present, then yes, a DRO review or hearing is a total waste of time. Having new and material evidence is the key to doing this. Without it, you have nothing to present to change their minds. A VSO knows this. And for the record, the VSO works for the VA, not you. I think you should read the VSO’s charter in the fine print. It says their allegience is to VA to help them adjudicate claims, not the Veteran.

  3. auenone says:

    I am asking for the DRO in that I was given 10% on my initial claim for r. knee arthritis. Kept telling the primary care that my knee was loose. They hemmed and hawed for awhile and then gave me an mri that the surgeon that removed shrapnel from my left heel told them there was more to the knee than arthritis. I now have tow torn menisci, a tear in the acl and edema in fibula and femur. The arthritis is so bad they said arthroscopy will do some good for a year but looking at tkr. Got second opinion on mri and dbq from private doctor and submitted everything for a DRO review. The only good part is I wasn’t denied any part of the claim and that is why I went the DRO route. Good luck to you all.

  4. Randy says:

    FYI, When I contacted the BVA I was told that they were working on files from 2010 and that was all they were working on. So dear friends it is a long battle which unfortunately for some may come too late. Every time I go to the ebenefits site I wretch. There is no reason that there should be these kinds of delays and BS run arounds but then again where would all of those GS positions go if they could suddenly just do it the right way. The bold heading on my last NOD requested review at the appelate level and it remains somewhere within the bowels of the RO in Denver.

    • Skywalker says:

      Sounds like we’re in the same boat. We’re 5 + months into a DRO review in Denver, with no movement. Calling 1800dialaprayer is useless because they drop the call due to call volume. Not sure what to do.

  5. Bruce says:

    I fell into the DRO review spiderweb, 06/11 received denial of all my claims submitted 03/10,sought assistance from the VFW,was told it would take 8-12 months for a DRO review, its now 09/12, last time I checked with the VFW I was told my file went into development 01/12 and it is in “locked file”,its been sitting in locked file for 7 to 8 months? REALLY???? I know my wait time is miniscule compared to other vets, but REALLY sitting for 7 to 8 months collecting dust is a disgrace. My VSO’s answer is “its awaiting the dro review” the VA answer is “its awaiting the DRO review” WTF??? pick up the GD file and review it. How mismanged is this agency? Tired of hearing all the BS about reducing the backlog….sorry for the rant. My RO is Newark,NJ……..the only thing going through my mind right now is “fugettaboutit”

    • asknod says:

      VA is praying you do just that. They formulated it into the matrix. 1million claims in the front door, 850K denied. Only 50K appealed past the NOD to DC. Only 5 K appealed to the CAVC. Of the 5K, 3K are remanded for error. Those are the eventual winners. You’re on the DRO hamster wheel now. Don’t throw in the towel at this juncture. It costs little to wait this out but time. If you have time, you have the means to win.

      • Bruce says:

        Still waiting…. going on 18 months….VSO tried filling me up with BS….the first statement was “I talked to the VSCM and he will forward your file to the DRO” that was 10/12…..then in 11/12 “your file is on a call up list” (no call up date mentioned). So I decided to go to the Public contact team, the nice representative checked into a system called SHARE and told me the file is still in locked files and hasnt moved one iota!!!! Way to VFW,………Way to go NJ RO!!! where is my USB cheerleader Alision? give the RO a little transformation pep talk!!!!!

    • FrankUshler says:

      Its time to get your congressman and senitor envolved. , The VA. does not like an offical request for them to do their job. It reflects on their job performance .

  6. asknod says:

    Law dog Bob says we should all use the DRO option. “Always DRO. Gives you one more free shot before you are dragged off to the 3 year wait at the Board.” Joe Average Vet says much the same. I politely disagree. If the vA’s default inclination is to deny, why hang around and wait a year to get your teeth kicked in? Why not just proceed to DC and begin the dental rearrangement there? Each case has its merits and liabilities. My feeling is colored by my experiences to date. I’m 0/4 on Decision Reviews and now five and a half years into it from filing date of 2/23/07.

    • Randy says:

      Most of us, assumption on my part, were not aware that we had much choice. It seems as though we are given two choices either send it to the DRO or let our claim languish in yet another pile at the local level. Neither is the optimal choice but had I known I would have been gearing up to fly East and perhaps have lunch with ole Barack and our retired general deputy chief.

    • Skywalker says:

      I’m no expert on this process, so I’m only guessing. My two areas of information for this are your advice, what the RO says (which I inherently don’t trust), and this guy (http://www.attiglawfirm.com/move/dro-review/).

      I’m going to assume that the VA claims process is political, and that they like things to look best for them. Since they do like things to look good for them before Congress or whatever, having many unresolved claims or claims that they went through that later turn out to be erroneous probably looks bad for their numbers. My guess is this:

      1. Veteran files a claim and waits a long while for the first decision
      2. This decision is grossly underrated and they hope he goes away
      3. If he doesn’t go away, he is encouraged to either file a new claim (bad idea), or told he can go through the full appeal or DRO process
      4. If Veteran decides to have the DRO look at it, the claim is still at the RO. This is their chance to alter anything before the Veteran takes it to a higher level and the claim is out of their “hands”, now bound for the BVA or the CAVC.

      My guess–and it’s only a guess–is that at the DRO stage, they will attempt to throw the Veteran a few more peanuts in the hopes that they go away and don’t take it to a higher stage. After all, by the very act of filing a NOD, the Veteran has shown them some tenacity. But again, this is only a guess, and when our personal experience pans out, I’ll let you know how it goes.

      Best of luck to everyone and keep up the good fight.

      • asknod says:

        The only peanuts thrown are for genuine, documented reasons that support your claim. At that time will you have finally passed the “…and giving the benefit of the doubt to the Veteran, we hereby grant…” Always remember, young Skywalker, 85% fail at this not because they are faking it, but because VA has been denying 85% since the dawn of the VA in 1789. I doubt there’s been an uptick of more that 2-3% since the World Wars which was transient. It’s currently pretty stable at 85%. Check the stats widget at the top to see the distribution from 0% to 100% and total # of Vets.

    • Skywalker says:

      I’m no lawyer, but I’ll give this rationale a shot–they are recommending DRO because they are thinking, while it will extend the process, it will give you an incremental advantage (such as a boost from 10% to 40%) to live on in the meantime. Just a guess though.

  7. Randy says:

    Denise, listen to the man because he knows the ups and downs. Winning a jetgun decision is going to be an uphill battle to say the least although not unheard of in the VA world. I was given service connection and a lovely slap to go with it vis a vis 10% compensation. Still twirling in the bowl somewhere in Denver but it has been appealed. Good luck.

  8. WGM says:

    I prevailed with a De Novo Review because of many CUE’s in my denial.
    Soon after filing my NOD I sent two NEXUS letters, and other stuff.
    With bullet proof CUE and NEXUS it was a quicker win at the RO level.

  9. Robert G says:

    I think we all have been here before. This vet has a private dr letter. That’s more than I had when I discovered this site. Getting out of the RO is the best bet regarding time factor. I hope this lady doesn’t give up. I would suggest burning the midnight oil on this site. I did it and my eyes watered for days. You have some of the best information here free of charge. Never give up or give in…..

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