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Filling Out the VA Form 20-0996 Online: A Step-by-Step Tutorial

October 19, 2023

If you are a veteran or a dependent seeking benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), you may be familiar with filling out forms to apply for assistance. One such form, VA Form 20-0996, is an essential document that allows you to request a reevaluation of your disability rating. However, if you're tired of dealing with traditional paperwork and want a more convenient option, you'll be delighted to know that VA Form 20-0996 is now fillable online.

By utilizing the online form, individuals can save time, reduce potential errors, and have a smoother experience throughout the application process. In this article, let’s discuss the steps and crucial insights for the VA Form 20-0996 fillable online. 

What is VA Form 20-0996?

VA Form 20-0996 serves as a critical resource for veterans seeking a Higher-Level Review of a decision that the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has made regarding their claim for benefits. The form is instrumental for veterans who believe there may have been a mistake or oversight in the initial evaluation of their claim or when they feel that the evidence provided did not adequately support the decision.

The scope of claims that VA Form 20-0996 can address encompasses an array of VA benefits, including:

  • Disability compensation: For veterans suffering from health conditions that stem from, or were exacerbated by, their military service, a higher-level review can be requested if they believe the disability rating or the decision itself does not accurately reflect the severity of their condition.

  • Pension: This refers to the financial support provided to low-income, wartime veterans, and their families. Should veterans find the decision on their pension benefits unsatisfactory or inaccurate, they can seek a more thorough review using this form.

  • Education benefits: These benefits, available under programs like the Post-9/11 GI Bill among others, are designed to help veterans, service members, and their family members cover the costs of education or training. If there's a dispute over eligibility or entitlement amount, veterans can request a higher-level review.

  • Home loan guaranty: The VA assists veterans in purchasing homes with favorable loan terms and interest rates. If there's an issue with the eligibility decision, veterans can use this form to request another look.

  • Vocational rehabilitation and employment services: These services help veterans with service-connected disabilities prepare for, find, and maintain suitable jobs. For decisions regarding eligibility or the level of services provided, a higher-level review can be sought.

  • Life insurance: Through various programs, the VA provides life insurance benefits for veterans and service members. If a veteran disagrees with a decision related to their life insurance benefits, they can file for a higher-level review.

  • Survivors benefits: These are benefits for the family members of deceased veterans or service members. If a decision about eligibility or payout amount is in dispute, the VA Form 20-0996 allows for a detailed review request.

  • Burial benefits: These assist with the burial and funeral costs for deceased veterans. Should there be a disagreement over eligibility or the benefits provided, a higher-level review can be requested.

Submitting VA Form 20-0996 Online

Submitting VA Form 20-0996 online is a streamlined process designed for convenience and efficiency. This digital approach ensures faster delivery to the VA, reducing wait times typically associated with postal mail. Here's a detailed guide on obtaining, filling out, and submitting this form online, along with tips for successful completion.

How to Obtain the Fillable Version of the Form

  1. Access the official VA website by visiting the decision reviews and appeals page.

  2. Locate and click on the "Decision review option: Higher-Level Review” tab.

  3. This action takes you to a dedicated page where you can log in to your eBenefits account. If you're a first-time user, register by selecting the "Create an Account" link and following the account setup instructions.

What Information Is Needed to Complete the Form

For the VA form 20-0996 fillable online, you'll need to provide specific personal and military service information, including:

  • Full name

  • Social Security number

  • VA file number (if applicable)

  • Detailed military service information

  • The date of the VA decision you disagree with

  • A concise explanation of why you believe the initial decision is incorrect.

Ensure you have this information at hand before starting the form to prevent delays and multiple sessions.

Submitting the Form Online

  1. Once logged into your eBenefits account, you can start filling out VA Form 20-0996 directly on the website.

  2. Fill each section with the required information. Pay close attention to the parts asking for details about the claim decision you're contesting.

  3. Provide a clear, succinct explanation of why you believe the VA's decision was incorrect. This is your opportunity to state your case, so be as specific as possible without unnecessary jargon or complexity.

  4. After filling out the form, review all your entries for accuracy and completeness.

  5. Click on the "Submit" button to send your form to the VA electronically.

  6. Upon submission, the VA will begin the process of reviewing your request. Expect notification of their decision via mail.

While online submission is preferred for speed and efficiency, VA Form 20-0996 can also be submitted by mail or fax. Visit the VA's website or contact VA assistance for the relevant addresses and fax numbers.

Tips for Successfully Filling Out and Submitting the Form Online

  • Preparation: Gather all necessary documents and information before starting the form. This preparation makes the process quicker and helps avoid interruptions.

  • Clarity and Conciseness: Use straightforward and specific language when describing your case. Avoid technical terms or jargon that might be confusing or unclear to the reviewer.

  • Detail-Oriented: The more information you provide about your claim, the better. However, ensure that all the information is relevant and directly supports your case.

  • Proofreading: Review your form for any errors, typos, or omissions. Ensuring the accuracy of every piece of information is crucial.

  • Record-Keeping: Save a copy of the completed form for your records. This step is vital for future reference and as proof of submission.

Understanding Higher-Level Review and Supplemental Claim Decisions

Let’s now look at the critical roles of higher-level reviewers and the nature of supplemental claims, as well as how to interpret those all-important decision letters and compile evidence that speaks volumes.

The Role of a Higher-Level Reviewer in Claim Decisions

A higher-level reviewer, being a seasoned VA employee, is a keystone in the VA's commitment to ensuring every veteran's claim is evaluated justly and meticulously. Unlike the original claim's adjudicators, these reviewers approach each case without any predispositions or biases from the prior decision. This approach is underlined by the principle of de novo review, Latin for "from the beginning." 

The significance of this method is that it ensures each claim is re-assessed based on its individual merits, without the influence or potential errors of the initial evaluation. It's like giving the claim a fresh set of experienced eyes, ensuring that no stone is left unturned and that the evaluation is both exhaustive and impartial.

What Is a Supplemental Claim?

Supplemental claims serve as a vital instrument for veterans, acting as a second chance to bolster their case when they believe crucial evidence was missing or overlooked during the initial assessment. The defining feature of a supplemental claim is the introduction of "new and relevant" evidence. Such evidence can be pivotal, as it can illuminate aspects of the claim that were previously obscured, offering a clearer understanding of the claim's merits. Essentially, this type of claim underscores the VA's dedication to making informed decisions by always considering updated information that can impact a veteran's entitlement.

Understanding Decision Letters from Regional Benefit Offices

A decision letter from the VA is more than just an outcome statement; it's a detailed breakdown crafted to enhance clarity and transparency in the decision-making process. These letters:

  • State the Result: Clearly indicate whether the claim was approved, denied, or needs further action.

  • List the Evidence: Outline every piece of evidence that was considered during the decision-making process. This provides veterans with a clear picture of the basis for the decision.

  • Reasoning for Decision: Providing a comprehensive explanation as to how and why the decision was reached. This is vital for veterans to understand the rationale behind the decision.

  • Guide on Next Steps: For veterans who might be dissatisfied with the outcome, the letter will offer guidance on possible appeal routes and how to proceed with them.

Evidence of Record Needed for Favorable Decisions

The strength and clarity of evidence play a pivotal role in determining the success of a claim. To enhance the chances of a favorable decision:

  • Medical Records: Should be up-to-date and exhaustive, detailing the condition or injury, its severity, and its correlation to military service if applicable.

  • Service Records: These are imperative in claims related to incidents or injuries during military service. They provide a chronological account and can validate claims of service-related ailments.

  • Supporting Documentation: This can include testimonies, photographs, personal diaries, or any other materials that could shed light on the claim.

  • Expert Testimonies: Opinions or assessments from subject-matter experts can substantially bolster a claim, especially in complex cases.

Using Online Tools to Streamline the Process of Appealing an Unfavorable Decision

Modern technology offers veterans online tools that significantly streamline the appeals process. These tools, accessible via the VA's website and third-party platforms, can guide veterans through the appeals process, help track the status of an appeal, and provide information on additional resources and rights within the appeals process.

1. eBenefits: Your Digital Gateway to Managing VA Benefits

At the forefront of these resources is eBenefits, a secure portal that serves as a one-stop-shop for veterans looking to manage their benefits online. This platform enables veterans to access their VA records, submit a Notice of Disagreement (NOD) — the essential first step in the appeals process — and communicate directly with the VA. This level of direct access and real-time management significantly simplifies what has traditionally been a complex process.

2. Filing for a Higher-Level Review Online

If veterans believe there has been an error in their case evaluation, they can request a more in-depth re-examination through VA Form 21-0996. Available for online submission via eBenefits, this form initiates a higher-level review of the initial decision made on their claim, making the appeal for reconsideration a more straightforward process.

3. Understanding VA Decision Through Review Letters

The VA Decision Review Letters are crucial documents that explain the specifics of the VA's decision on a claim. These letters detail the evidence considered and the rationale behind the decision made. By reviewing these letters, veterans can identify any potential discrepancies or errors in the VA's decision-making process, arming themselves with information critical for a successful appeal.

4. Delving into Legal Resources with the VA Law Library

Knowledge is a powerful tool, especially when dealing with legal matters. The VA Law Library is an online trove of information, granting veterans access to an array of legal resources, including VA regulations, statutes, and pertinent case law. This resource is invaluable for veterans wishing to research and gather evidence to reinforce their appeal.

5. Mastering the New Appeals Process with the AMA Toolkit

The Appeals Modernization Act (AMA) changed the appeals landscape, and the AMA Toolkit is an indispensable guide to understanding these changes. It offers comprehensive information about the different appeal lanes available under the AMA and provides clarity on the deadlines and procedures essential for an effective appeal.

Aside from these tools, veterans can also seek assistance from VA Veterans Service Representatives (VSRs), who are equipped to provide information and guidance on the appeals process. Organizations like the National Organization of Veterans' Advocates (NOVA) offer free legal representation, while the Board of Veterans' Appeals (BVA) stands as an independent entity that reviews appeals and provides fresh decisions on claims.


Effectively utilizing a VA Form 20-0996 fillable online is instrumental in the efficient processing of appeals for VA decisions. Through a comprehensive understanding of the form, the appeal process, and the potential outcomes, veterans can more effectively advocate for their rights and receive the benefits they duly deserve. Remember, while the process may seem daunting, resources and assistance are available to ensure veterans can navigate these steps confidently.

Are you facing a medical discharge from the Army and feeling uncertain about the process ahead? Gain clarity now by reading our comprehensive guide on what to expect during and after a medical discharge.

Michael Blair contributes his expertise to help veterans access government benefits and resources. Through his informative articles and guides, he plays a vital role in empowering veterans and improving their quality of life.
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