A higher level review (HLR) claim can be filed whenever a veteran thinks he or she has been unjustly rated and would like his or her claim to be reviewed by a decision review officer (DRO) at one of the VA’s Decision Review Operations Centers (DROCs). Higher level review is one of the three types of appeals introduced with the Rapid Appeals Modernization Program in 2017. It calls for a claim to be reviewed using the evidence of record available to the VA at the time of the previous decision. This means that filing for a HLR appeal will send the veteran’s claim to a different rater, specifically a DRO, but may not result in a different schedular disability rating if both raters interpret the existing evidence the same. However, filing for a HLR can still be useful even if the claim is denied, because it can provide more time for the veteran to find additional evidence in support of his or her claim if he or she is close to lapsing an appeal deadline.
How to Complete VA Form 20-0996
Section 1 – Claimant’s Identifying Information
Boxes 1-12 are the simplest to complete in the form, requiring only personal information. You will need to provide your: full name, social security number, VA file number, date of birth, service number, insurance policy number (if applicable), claimant’s name (applicable for DIC claims), claimant type, current mailing address, telephone number, email address, and benefit type. You can only check one benefit type per HLR form, so if you plan to file HLR appeals for multiple benefit claims, you will need to fill out a separate VA Form 20-0996 for each benefit type.
Section 2 – Higher-level Review Options
Box 13 will ask you if you want your HLR to be evaluated at the same office where your original decision was evaluated. If you do not check the box in under this question, your HLR appeal will automatically be sent to a different office to conduct the review. If you do check the box, the VA still may not be able to fulfill your request, but it will attempt to place your HLR with the same office.
Box 14 will ask you if you or your accredited representative would like to request an informal conference with the higher-level reviewer. An informal conference is a telephone conference between you or your representative and the higher-level reviewer where errors of fact or law in the previous decision can be pointed out. If you wish to have an informal conference, check the box provided. Below that, there are several boxes with time slots that can be requested, of which you should select up to two. If you would like the VA to contact your representative directly to schedule an informal conference, provide his or her information in the shaded box near the bottom of the page.
Section 3 – Issues for Higher-Level Review
Box 15 is where you will indicate which issues you request higher level review for from your most recent decision. In 15a, you will write out the specific issues you want reviewed, and in the adjacent box in column 15b, you will provide the date of the VA decision which provided a ruling on that issue.
Section 4 – Certification and Signature
In this section, you will sign and date the application for HLR, thus authorizing it for use by the VA.
Help With Your Higher Level Review Appeal
If you or someone you know is a veteran looking for assistance in appealing an unfavorable VA schedular disability rating, please contact us at the number above or via our free claim evaluation form. Our veterans law attorneys are experienced in helping veterans win their higher level review appeals and are ready to get you the compensation you deserve.