VA Board of Veterans’ Appeals introduces virtual hearing option early to keep decisions moving during COVID-19 crisis
In March, the Department of Veterans Affairs Board of Veterans’ Appeals suspended all in-person hearings in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. To keep cases moving, the Board launched a new virtual hearing option, providing veterans with the flexibility and convenience of attending Board hearings with veterans law judges and veterans representatives, like DAV, from the safety of their own homes.
“The Board has been testing virtual hearing capabilities since July , and we know veterans have been waiting for these hearings, so veterans do have the opportunity to switch over to virtual hearings,” said Board of Veterans’ Appeals Chairman Cheryl Mason. “We have the capability and the capacity to do that.”
Virtual hearings allow veterans to participate in their hearings on a personal laptop or mobile device through a safe and secure connection to the VA network.
“Just like a live hearing room, this is a virtual hearing room on the computer,” said Mason. “The veteran and their representative are given an access code via email to enter the room, and a judge is there to verify that that is the correct people. The judge then locks down the virtual hearing room, and we conduct the hearing online, allowing the veteran to tell their story.”
Mason said the virtual hearings are built on the same network as the Veterans Health Administration’s telemedicine program, ensuring the same safety and security veterans depend on during telehealth appointments.
The Board has held nearly 300 hearings since last July, according to Mason. “We planned to phase the virtual hearing program in later this year, but with this [national emergency], we didn’t want to delay veterans hearings. So we needed to get it fully operational now,” she added.
“We’ve been working with the Board as they’ve been executing the virtual option for veterans and providing feedback along the way to improve the program,” said National Service Director Jim Marszalek. “Now, when the nation faces a national emergency that could potentially delay thousands of veterans appeals, the Board fast-tracked full implementation of the program to ensure veterans have the opportunity to have their cases heard in a timely manner.”
According to Mason, Board employees across the country are experienced and comfortable in the telework environment, allowing them to continue to be operational during such an unprecedented crisis.
Veterans can ask for a virtual hearing the same way they would normally request other Board hearing options. They only need to reach out to their representative or local VA regional office to make the request. Veterans who prefer not to participate in virtual hearings, but to wait for operations to return to normal, will receive top priority in hearing rescheduling, Mason said.
Contact your DAV representative or local VA regional office to find out more about the virtual hearing option, or visit www.bva.va.gov for the latest updates.