Veteranclaims’s Blog

June 13, 2021

2020 BVA annual report, errors identified; New and Material Evidence/New and Relevant Evidence; Traumatic Brain Injury; Lay Evidence; Presumption of Soundness and Aggravation; and AMA claims;

the BVA 2020 annual report identified a series of legal areas that they kept getting wrong, “such as: New and Material Evidence/New and Relevant Evidence; Traumatic Brain Injury; Lay Evidence; Presumption of Soundness and Aggravation; and AMA Refresher”.

BVA 2020 annual report

The Office of Knowledge Management (KM) ensures that Board employees receive the training needed to provide Veterans with legally accurate and timely decisions. In FY 2020, KM created targeted and agile legal training for employees based on identified QR trends. KM offered legal training on topics such as: New and Material Evidence/New and Relevant Evidence; Traumatic Brain Injury; Lay Evidence; Presumption of Soundness and Aggravation; and AMA Refresher. Legal trainings were adjusted to address new outcomes from CAVC and the Federal Circuit. KM partnered with VA’s OGC Ethics Specialty Team to provide live Hatch Act training.

The Board’s Office of Quality Review (QR) has a case review system that aims to identify objective errors that fall outside the bounds of judicial discretion in a uniform and consistent manner. Judicial discretion applies to numerous aspects of the decision process. Legitimate differences of opinion as to the outcome of an appeal, the interpretation of the law, the application of the law to the facts, or the assessment of the weight and credibility of the evidence are matters subject to the exercise of judicial discretion and generally do not fall within the definition of “error.” To maintain the statistical validity of the case review system, QR is focused on a uniform and consistent approach to identifying potential errors, regardless of the types of cases involved or which VLJs decided the cases. For each error discovered in any Board decision, QR prepares an error memorandum addressed to the signing VLJ and their supervising Deputy Vice Chairman. This memorandum identifies the error type, a detailed explanation to support the identified error and a recommended course of action to remedy the identified error.

Interactive Decision Template (IDT), Reporting and Migrations
The Board improved its IDT in FY 2020. The IDT, initially launched in FY 2018, replaced the nearly 20-year-old template used to draft Board decisions. The IDT automatically retrieves data from case management software and populates important and relevant language into each appellate decision, allowing attorneys and VLJs to focus their attention on legal research and drafting. The IDT helps encourage consistency across Board decisions as well as the use of clear and concise language to ensure Board decisions are understandable to Veterans. The IDT has increased efficiency by automating several steps: 1) creating the final electronic signed decision; 2) retrieving the most current Veteran and representative contact information; 3) generating cover letters and mailing labels; 4) uploading completed copies of the decision to the Veterans Appeals Control and Locator System (VACOLS) and the Veterans Benefits Management System (VBMS); and 5) printing copies for mailing. This automation reduced human error in mailings and the time required to get a signed decision from a VLJ to the Veteran. These innovations significantly contributed to the Board’s record-breaking decision output in FY 2020.

Establishment of the Clerk of the Board
In January 2020, the Board established the Office of the Clerk of the Board, an internal Board resource formed to ensure the proper docketing of AMA appeals and to help the Board staff transition to working only on AMA appeals. Led by a VLJ with the assistance of several counsel, the Clerk’s Office provides training and guidance for administrative staff charged with docketing AMA appeals, answers complex legal questions from VLJs and counsel related to AMA docketing and jurisdiction, creates AMA letter templates for Board staff, and generally assists Board management with AMA execution. The Clerk’s Office also works to identify and correct AMA docketing errors, improve Board training around AMA issues and assists VA IT professionals in refining the technological tools used by Board staff to process AMA appeals.

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