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 identified new exams for the veteran may be ordered.
Here are 4 tips to make the most of your informal conference:
- Be Prepared: Know your case thoroughly. Try to get your c&p exam results so you can know what to dispute.
- Know Your Argument: What exactly was the legal or procedural error that has been made? You can’t add new evidence in an HLR but you can make as many arguments as you desire.
- Get a representative: Whether a VSO, claims agent or attorney, many representatives have electronic access to your files and can likely argue your case better than you can. It’s probably best to seek some advice.
- Document: As soon as possible after the informal conference call document exactly what was said and what you argued and upload it to your claim the same day. This way your version of the story is on record too along with the write up the reviewer will add to your file.