Anytime I file a Notice of Disagreement, I always request a hearing before a Decision Review Officer. This is an optional hearing that takes place at the Philadelphia Regional Office with the Decision Review Officer (DRO) who is deciding your claim on appeal. I request this hearing for a couple reasons:
Firstly, it is the first time a Veteran will talk face to face with the person deciding their claim. In other words, the VA gets to see the human side of a Veteran, instead of him/her being simply a stack of medical records. Secondly, it gives the Veteran the chance to tell their story through testimony which is recorded and becomes part of the record. Thirdly, it allows the attorney and Veteran to speak candidly with the DRO and to discuss what evidence is needed to get the claim approved.
My clients often express anxiety about these hearings, because they think they are going to “court”. Rest assured, these hearings are a low stress environment and are nothing to worry about. The DROs are not judges and in my experience are always friendly with the Veteran. I believe they truly want to reach the best possible resolution to the Veteran’s claim. These hearings only last an hour and are great way to make sure the VA has all they need to get your claim approved.
Please be aware, if you file a claim on your own be sure you write to the VA specifically stating that you want to have a DRO hearing. They will not automatically give it to you. You must request it!