Cindy Speaker:  Good afternoon and welcome to this episode of Alabama Law TV. My name is Cindy Speaker, I have with me as my guest today Nathan Guin, one of my favorite guests and he is with Gardberg and Kemmerly, Attorney’s at Law, in Mobile, Alabama. Nathan, welcome.

Nathan Guin: Thank you very much, that’s very flattering. I’m glad that I’ve made the tops of your list.

Cindy Speaker:  Absolutely, absolutely. I always love talking to you, so we’re gonna talk today as we usually do about veteran’s disability law, and I understand that you have been very, very busy so I’m so glad we got to get to you today.

Nathan Guin:  Yeah, it’s been a little hectic.

Cindy Speaker:   You’re all over the place.

Nathan Guin:  I’ve been all over the Southeast it feels like, it’s good to be home for a little bit.

Cindy Speaker:  Oh, well that’s good. Well, our topic is the new VA appeals process. So you’re gonna tell us some …

Nathan Guin:  Yes.

Cindy Speaker:  Some maybe really trending things that we haven’t heard before, let’s start off and talk about what is it, and when will it be implemented?

Nathan Guin: Okay, so that’s probably the easiest and most concrete part I would say.

Cindy Speaker:  Okay.

Nathan Guin:  What it is and when it will be implemented. So, it’s supposed to be implemented in February of 2019, that’s per the experts at NOVA, which is the National Organization of Veteran’s Advocates. That was the conference I was at a couple weeks ago in Saint Pete down in Florida. So this is all brand new information from that, so that’s when it’s going to be implemented. Basically what it’s going to do is change the rule of the regional offices in the board of veteran’s appeals. So, now what you have is you put in your claim at the regional office, you get a rating decision from the regional office, you file a notice of disagreement with the regional office, and then you get a statement of the case from the regional office. So they act as the original I guess adjudicator, the original decision maker and they also act as the first level of the appeals process, well now that’s gone.

So, now when you do want to appeal, you’ll still file a notice of disagreement, but what you’ll do is file it directly with the board of veteran’s appeals, and then at that point, there are three different tracks that you can choose based on what your case looks like, what kind of evidence you have, what the issues are and appeal. There’s also some interesting stuff that I think we might get into a little later about changes in strategy at the regional office because of the way that they are redefining those rules.

Cindy Speaker: Wow, okay so lots of changes. What are the most basic changes that have been made?

Nathan Guin: There’s not going to be a statement of the case, there won’t be strictly speaking decision review officers at the regional office, they’ll have high level review officers. New material evidence, a lot of terms are like new material evidence, is now we’re doing relevant evidence. A lot of different small things like that. Some of them stay the same, but the biggest difference is obviously is you get to kind of customize what you want to do. You have options at the regional office level, before you file a notice of disagreement. Once you get to the board, you have three different options, all of which has pros and cons depending on what you want for your case.

Cindy Speaker:  Okay.

Nathan Guin:  I guess the most basic changes is that everything seems to be somewhat changed, other than the fact you still can have hearings, you’ll still have decision review officers, they’ll just be at the board rather than the regional office and they’re called something different. A lot of it’s the same, but a lot of it will allow for the process to not be so linear. Everyone is in the same line right now, and this will break it up into a bunch of different lines.

Cindy Speaker:  Okay.

Nathan Guin:  Which is really helpful.

Cindy Speaker:  Oh it will be helpful. So you see this as a positive change?

Nathan Guin: If it works the way that it looks like it should, I’m very excited about it.

Cindy Speaker:  Oh good.

Nathan Guin: I think it’ll help us as attorney’s be able to customize more to each case, rather than … You know you can’t, there’s only so much you can do, and obviously the legal arguments are different for every case because all the facts are different, but you know different cases have different strengths, different weaknesses, and a lot of times you wish you could just bypass in my opinion, I would just to bypass the statement of the case and the format all together, which is now what you can do and go straight to the board, because I really think that the board gives you a really good shake down and they’re very fair and they get the decisions, I believe, right most of the time as opposed to, you know, the regional office where you get the same decision twice, just two and a half years a part. I’m really excited about it, if it works.

Cindy Speaker:  Good.

Nathan Guin: Anywhere close to the way that it hopefully will.

Cindy Speaker: Do you think this will accelerate the time it takes to get cases through the system?

Nathan Guin:  So, that’s the biggest point, or the biggest reason that they did it was to try and get these cases moving forward. So the idea is yes they will, I don’t know what it means necessarily for the speed of current claims. That’s something that is still kind of been addressed, but not really. It’s raised a lot of questions, and not a whole lot of answers. So, I think for the newer claims as we’re going along, it’ll speed those up. For the older claims, I’m not sure if it’ll make that big of a difference. I think they just have to ride it out, but we’ll see what happens here.

Cindy Speaker:  You mentioned something staying the same, is there anything thing that’s going to stay the same but maybe be called something different?

Nathan Guin:  So I think I’ve alluded to it earlier, right now you can file a notice of disagreement and ask for a decision review officer review. Basically that’s another rating specialist who you have a conference with, talk to them about it, they’ll review the case completely separate from the original decision, and they issue a new decision. Now that’s just going to be called the High Level review officer now, that’s a different … It’s essentially the same thing, but it’ll be at the board of veteran’s appeals, not at the regional offices and they’ll have a different name. So that will look different, but stay the same.

Cindy Speaker: Okay.

Nathan Guin:  The same thing for like new material evidence is now new and relevant evidence, it’s a little bit broader of a statement, which makes it a little bit easier for us in terms of what constitutes new and relevant evidence as opposed to new and material, but that’s essentially the same it’s just kind of different terminology on those.

Cindy Speaker:  Okay. You just … Yeah.

Nathan Guin:  It’s just a little bit different.

Cindy Speaker:  Okay so you said something would be easier for you, how is it going to effect attorney’s and your strategy?

Nathan Guin:  Well, from that perspective, it might be a little bit more challenging ’cause we’ll have more decisions to make, but I think it’ll be helpful for the veteran’s. It’ll be a pro, just gives us more work, which is fine obviously, that’s what we’re here for.

What it’ll do for the attorney’s and this is something I haven’t really gotten into yet, instead of filing a notice of disagreement, what you can do is file what’s called a supplemental claim. You put in a new claim, you get a rating decision, and if they say “We can see that you have a currently diagnosed disability, that part is checked off.” Well now, all those favorable findings are binding. So nobody can go back and say that that’s incorrect, that’s binding. What you can also do is you can file, if you get new and relevant evidence, so if you get some other evidence that shows that link or an injury in service and that previously was an issue, you can put in a supplemental claim with that new evidence and you’ll keep your effective date from your original claim, which is different than before.

You kind of have a couple different opportunities at the regional office level to get your ducks in a row and really almost have it handled there, and if it doesn’t get handled there when they you go to somewhere different. You can get your ducks in a row, and if they still mess it up and you say “Look, I’ve given you everything you need,” and they deny you? Well then you can file the notice of disagreement to the board of veteran’s appeals and so I think that it gives you the chance to be more efficient.

Cindy Speaker:  Yeah, well it certainly is complicated.

Nathan Guin: It feels like it right now, and we don’t have probably half the details ’cause the regulations haven’t all been written yet, so still a lot of development but it’s exciting.

Cindy Speaker: Good.

Nathan Guin: It’s really exciting, I’m really, really excited about it but also very curious to see what it turns out looking like and how it actually works because what they want and what happens is largely different with the VA.

Cindy Speaker:  Yeah, yeah, with everything.

Nathan Guin:  Yeah exactly.

Cindy Speaker: Well I love that you guys are on the cutting edge, you’re always on the cutting edge at Gardberg and Kemmerly, I think that’s awesome, and it’s certainly helpful to the veterans.

Nathan Guin: We try our best, we try to keep up with everything, it’s ever changing. These conferences, they have them twice a year, we usually send somebody to pretty much every one of them.

Cindy Speaker: That’s good.

Nathan Guin:  There’s always just incredible information that comes out of that. Basically a huge group think about what can we do advocates and attorney’s to help fix things and also to get all that valuable information. It was a great conference, and I’ve come back and I’ve used, I can’t even count how much stuff I’ve used from it just since I’ve been back, so it’s been great.

Cindy Speaker:  Oh wow, that’s awesome. So bottom line, what will this mean, what will these changes mean for the veterans now and also in the future?

Nathan Guin:  So for the ones that have current claims, the idea that’s being kicked around now or the solution that have for that is what’s called a legacy docket. So when this new system gets implemented, more likely than not the claims that are already pending will stay within a similar system as to what they are now. But, there won’t be any new cases added to it as a person now, you can get new claims and new appeals and everything just kind of compounds each other. So, more likely than not, excuse me, the older claims will be dealt with in a very similar manner, because they’ll just have to clear those out. It’s gonna be very difficult for them to integrate them into the new system.

Now for new claims, and for other veterans, if you have a claim now that you are thinking about filing but you might be able to wait until this new system gets implemented, you may want too because it might behoove you to do that, it might be advantages to you from a time perspective, and a number of other ways to do that. For veterans now with current claims, I don’t think it’ll change much, but I think in terms of people who want to file claims later or who are coming back from service where ever it may be now, I think it’s gonna be really advantages for them, it’s gonna be a helpful process and I think it’ll make things a little bit more easier, a little bit easier and a little more efficient hopefully.

Cindy Speaker:   That’s great. Okay Nathan, so if anybody has questions, they want to talk to you, how can they reach you?

Nathan Guin: They can either comment on this video and we’ll answer it on Facebook as quickly as we can, or they can give us a call here at Mobile at 251-343-1111, or they can find us at our website GardbergLaw.com and for those of you who don’t know, if you practice VA law, we are in Alabama but we have cases all across the country. So if you somehow found us and you’re in the Dakota’s or where ever you may be and you need help, you can call us. We’re licensed basically nationwide, as long as it’s in the VA system, so we can help you no matter where you are in the country.

Cindy Speaker:  Outstanding! That is great. Well listen, thanks for being with us today as always, it’s a pleasure.

Nathan Guin:   Absolutely, well thank you for having me. I always enjoy it.

Cindy Speaker:   Awesome, and as Nathan said, to those of you that are watching now live, you can leave your comments right on the page and we’ll make sure somebody gets back to you and answers them for you. Thanks everyone, we’ll talk to you again soon.