When a veteran appeals a rating decision he or she can opt to have a Decision Review Officer (DRO) review the appeal in what is called a Higher Level Review(HLR). The veteran can elect to have an” informal conference” as a part of their HLR. This gives the veteran or their representative a chance to have a conversation directly with the DRO. The VA will then schedule that informal conference “hearing” with the veteran to hear the veteran’s side of the claim.
What happens at a higher level review informal conference? To begin with, an informal conference is very much informal. The DRO usually calls the veteran or representative, introduces themselves, reads a statement about not accepting new evidence and then has a conversation with the veteran. No new evidence is allowed so the veteran or their representative must present and error of fact or law in the claim decision. In our experience, the DRO will let the veteran tell his side of the story and will ask questions only when clarification is needed. Sometimes the DRO will tell the veteran at the end of the hearing what the DRO plans to do, or what is needed to help the veteran’s claim.
After the hearing, the veteran will either receive a new Rating Decision with specific instructions on what to do next or information on what happens next. If a Duty to Assist error is found new exams for the veteran may be ordered.