(update 20 Dec 2014: still haven't heard from VA after two and a half years waiting)Here is the mechanism of this particular claim going forward (from the Vietnam Veterans of America web site). In this particular case, representation will be sought from the American Legion, given their national support and the local VSO's strengths.
Last week's expected (yet disappointing) VA denial of the first of our veterans' Agent Orange claims gives momentum to our campaign. Rather than the issue sitting on some VA wonk's desk, it gets to the stage where a clarifying argument can be offered, and failing that, can progress to the Board of Veterans Appeals.
How To Respond To The VA's Decision:You do not help yourself if you simply dump a pile of loose records on the VA. Organize the records and explain their significance in a letter you and your representative prepare together. Once the VA regional office makes a decision with respect to your claim, you (and your service representative) will receive a notice of that decision which explains the reasons for the VA’s determination. Read the notice carefully and discuss it with your representative. Your appeal should address the specific reasons why the VA denied the claim or awarded a rating that is too low or an effective date that is too late.
The first step in appealing a claim is to send the VA regional office a "Notice of Disagreement " (NOD). There is no official NOD form. Generally, the NOD can be a written statement on VA Form 21-4138 (Statement in Support of Claim) or a letter that states that you disagree with the decision. Be sure to include in your NOD the date of the decision that you disagree with, which issues you disagree with and that you intend to appeal those issues. You have one year from the date of the VA’s notice of its decision to file your NOD with the VA regional office. If you miss this deadline, you can only reopen your claim based on new and material evidence or establishing that the VA denial was the product of clear and unmistakable error (which is very difficult to prove).
After the VA receives your NOD, you should receive a letter that acknowledges your NOD. You will be asked whether you wish to have your appeal sent to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals (BVA) in Washington, D.C., or whether you wish to have your claim reviewed on a de novo basis. The latter refers to the VA’s Decision Review Officer (DRO) program. This is an informal appellate process within the regional office. The DRO has the authority to reverse or modify a VA rating board decision. We recommend that you seek DRO review before you request a BVA appeal. The DRO process is frequently successful and is generally faster than going straight to the BVA. If you do not receive a better decision from the DRO, you can still appeal to the BVA.
Once the DRO has made a decision or has received your request for BVA consideration, the VA will issue a “Statement of the Case” (SOC). This document will explain the VA’s decision(s) in detail. You have 60 days from the date of the SOC to file your substantive appeal to the BVA on VA Form 9. (VA forms can be downloaded from the VA’s “Compensation” website. You can even apply for benefits online under “Vonapp” (Veterans Online Application)). Your appeal will then be certified and forwarded to the BVA.