February 19, 2019 marked the beginning of a new era at the Department of Veterans Affairs thanks to full implementation of the Veterans Appeals And Improvement Act of 2017.
As a result, the VA has ended the Rapid Appeals Modernization Program (RAMP) of 2017, also known as RAMP, which was initiated to offer veterans with health care claim appeals some early access to benefits under the Act.
The RAMP program was designed to offer eligible veterans “early resolution” to medical claims under appeal and has since been replaced with the Veterans Appeals And Improvement Act.
Full implementation of the act was effective February 19, 2019 but the Department of Veterans Affairs quit taking RAMP paperwork from eligible veterans as of February 15, 2019. Claims which are considered “pending” on or after the February 15, 2019 date will be processed as usual until there are none remaining. All future claims under the new laws will be handled with one of three procedures, as we will examine below.
How The Veterans Appeals And Improvement Act Works
Under the Act, any eligible veteran who wishes to appeal a VA medical claim decision has three options described at the VA official site as:
- Higher-Level Review
- Supplemental Claim
- Board of Veterans’ Appeals
These options, described by the Department of Veterans Affairs as “lanes” offer resolution in many cases in as little as 125 days compared to the old three-to-seven-year process.
The Higher-Level Review lane offers veterans the assistance of “a more experienced adjudicator” who will review the veteran’s case and evidence submitted to make a new decision.
Those who choose the Supplemental Claim option are given the opportunity to submit “new and relevant evidence” and the VA is committed to helping the veteran in “developing new evidence under its duty to assist.”
The VA Secretary Robert Wilkie went on the record saying the new process is streamlined and should be considered a “reform of the broken legacy system.” Under the old legacy system, appeal decisions can go on as long as “three to seven years,” according to a VA press release.
How Higher-Level Review Works
All veteran health care claims under this process are reviewed by “a more senior claims adjudicator.” Veterans are not allowed to submit new evidence under this process even though it is considered a “new look” at the original claim decision.
The veteran’s ability to have the original decision overturned will depend on whether there was a “clear and unmistakable error” or a difference of opinion.
Any VA reviewer who through this process, “identifies or learns of a duty to assist error” can submit the claim to a VA Regional Office to be corrected.
How Supplemental Claims Work
Under this version of the appeals process, the veteran is permitted to submit new supporting claim evidence or “identify new and relevant evidence to support your claim.” The Department of Veterans Affairs has pledged help for veterans who want to develop such evidence.
How Submitting to The Board of Veterans Appeals Works
The Board of Veterans appeals option has the service member appealing direct to the board with one of three options:
- Direct review, where the veteran has no further evidence and requests a direct hearing.
- Evidence submission, where the veteran has new evidence, but does not want a hearing.
- Hearing, when the veteran has new evidence and wants to testify before a Veterans Law Judge.
What Veterans With “Legacy Appeals” And Appeals Under RAMP Need To Know
The VA policy for vets who have filed appeals under the old legacy system beyond February 15th, 2019 are permitted to opt-into the streamlined appeals process once they have received either;
- A “Statement of the Case” OR
- A “Supplemental Statement of the Case”
Veterans who were participating in RAMP may be eligible to choose case review under the Supplemental Claim process or Higher-Level Review.
Know Your Rights
All veterans have the right to appeal any benefits decision made by the Department of Veterans Affairs, and the VA official site reminds vets that using the VA appeals process is different than other appeals. The process is fixed in federal law and specific steps are required but you do have the right to appeal and seek redress of your claim. You also have the right to seek assistance with your claim or appeal-veteran service organizations, state offices of veterans affairs, or other help is permitted in drafting, filing, and tracking claims/appeals. Learn more about the Board of Veterans Appeals at the VA official site.
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