Are you a veteran? Have you been fighting for years to get your VA benefits? Or are you too discouraged by the complicated, confusing process to even file a claim? If so, this article is for you!
Ask any veteran, sitting in the waiting room at the local VA medical center, and they can tell you a shocking story—not only of their time in the U.S. military service but also of the horrors of navigating the complicated, red-taped, endless VA benefits system in their quest for compensation.
In 2017, Congress passed the Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act. This act takes apart the current appeal system and replaces it with a new process aimed to improve the experience for all involved in the process. The VA tested out this process with a pre-cursor program: the Rapid Appeals Modernization Program (RAMP). Gradually, as more veterans opted into the new program, the VA transitioned into the full version of the Appeals Modernization Act (AMA) in February 2019.
The Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act
What exactly does the Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act involve?
The AMA program streamlines the way in which appeals can move through the appeals process. Once an initial decision has been rendered, the claimant is free to choose whichever appeal process they wish.
In order to opt into any of the following appeal lanes, you must have a current appeal. You cannot, for example, file a new claim directly to the Board for a judge decision (and bypass the Regional Office).
Step 1: Veteran files a new claim
Step 2: VA regional office (RO) issues a rating decision
Step 3: Veteran has 1 year to choose any of the 3 following options:
- Request a Higher Level Review
- Submit new evidence in the Supplemental Claim Lane
- Request a Board Review
This is the new evidence lane. You have one year from the date of your decision to file additional evidence. Under the new law, this is now referred to as a supplemental claim. In this lane, you may submit additional evidence that is new and relevant. Upon receipt of your new evidence, VA will attempt to make a decision within 125 days. Your effective date will be the day you filed the first claim.
Board Review Lane
Once you get an initial decision on your claim, you can opt to appeal it directly to the Board of Veterans Appeals for a review by a Veterans Law Judge (VLJ). In order to appeal to the Board, you will need to file the Notice of Disagreement (NOD). At the Board Review level, you now have three options:
Option 1: Fully developed appeal = a claim that is ready for a decision by the BVA and there is no further evidence to submit
Option 2: Hearing request with the chance to submit additional evidence
Option 3: No hearing but option to submit evidence
The Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims
If the Board Review decision is unfavorable, you have an option to file a supplemental claim within a year, or you can file an appeal to the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims (CAVC). You only have 120 days to file the appeal to the CAVC if you choose to do so.
If you file an appeal with the CAVC and win, your original effective date is preserved. If you do not prevail, then you have a year to file a supplemental claim. Should you win after that, you still preserve your original effective date.
The Legacy System
What happens to claims that did not opt into RAMP or AMA?
The former appeals system is now being referred to as the Legacy System. In the process of transitioning from the old appeals process to the new, there were still many appeals that were not transferred over to the new system. These are referred to as “Legacy appeals”. They will still be adjudicated under the old processes, until those appeals are resolved to the veteran’s satisfaction, or otherwise opted into the AMA program.
Whether you have claims in the old Legacy program or have opted into the new AMA program, quality representation can make a material difference in navigating your appeal options and ultimately winning your claim for VA benefits.
Mr. Hill focuses his practice on representing the disabled veterans. He is a member of the Florida Bar and the Washington D.C. Bar. He is licensed to practice before the United States District Court in and for the Middle District of Florida, as well as the United States Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims. He represents veterans and their dependents across the nation.