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Sean Kendall

Experts Skeptical of VA’s Plans for Appeals Modernization, Including RAMP


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2/7/2018
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On August 23rd, 2017, President Trump signed the Veterans’ Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act (“the Act”), a law which the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (“VA”) hopes will reduce the monstrous backlog of appeals.

While the Act does not go into effect until February of 2017, the VA submitted its implementation plan on November 23rd, 2017. After the Government Accountability Office (“GAO”), the National Organization of Veterans’ Advocates (“NOVA”), the Veterans of Foreign Wars (“VFW”), and many other veterans’ affairs experts and veterans’ service organizations had a chance to review the VA’s proposal, a hearing was held by the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs (“the Committee”). The tone in the room was largely that of hope for the Act’s potential, but skepticism of the VA’s ability to realized that potential.

Veterans’ Affairs Experts Say Implementation Plan is Dangerously Vague

Throughout the hearing there was one key theme: the implementation plan is vague.

NOVA and the GAO both expressed concern that the VA had failed to establish how many employees it would need in each division to successfully implement the Act. Each organization also voiced their concerns about the need to update technology quickly if the transition is going to go smoothly. GAO also noted that the implementation plan included a disconcerting lack of milestones – indicating that there was not a clear vision of how things might change after the implementation.

This lack of certainty is frightening, particularly when it relates to an Act which could determine whether the 470,000 veterans who are trapped in the appeals process receive their disability benefits.

Many Organizations Find Flaws in the RAMP

Another theme throughout the hearing was concern regarding the VA’s Rapid Appeals Modernization Program (“RAMP”).

RAMP is a program through which a veteran with a pending appeal can withdraw her or his appeal and transfer it into the new system. The RAMP is a trial which essentially allows veterans to try out elements of the new system before it goes into effect. However, once they opt in to the program, they can never return to the old system. Further, the RAMP limits veterans to two options: 1) The Higher-Level Review Lane, in which a higher-up VA official reviews the veteran’s case as it stands and decides whether to overturn the prior decision; or 2) The Supplemental Claim Lane, through which veterans can submit new evidence. Veterans in the RAMP cannot appeal directly to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals (“the Board”) and, if their claim is denied by Higher-Level Review or the Supplemental Claim process, they will not be allowed to appeal to the Board until February of 2019.

During the hearing, VFW explained that it was hesitant to refer its clients to the RAMP for two reasons. First, they knew that it would result in veterans, many of whom had already been waiting years to appeal, essentially giving up their place in line at the Board. Second, because they were unclear about whether, in practice, the RAMP would expedite veterans’ claims, they feared that it would further prolong the appeals process.

Do Not Wait to File Your Appeal

At the Law Offices of Attorney Sean Kendall, we urge you to steer clear of the RAMP and file your appeal using the current system as soon as possible. We make this recommendation for the following three reasons.

First, as VFW voiced, it is unclear whether the RAMP will lead to an expedited decision.

Second, the RAMP program does not provide access to the Board, meaning your decision will be made by a VA official and ineligible for review until February of 2019.  

Third, with the help of an experienced Veterans’ Law Attorney, you can move efficiently towards winning your benefits right away. We know that the award of disability benefits can be life changing, and we urge you to move towards that goal sooner rather than later.

While the current appeals process may seem intimidating and lengthy, we are here to guide you every step of the way. When you are ready to file an appeal, send us a note or give us a call at (877)-629-1712. With decades of combined experience, we are confident we can win you the benefits you are entitled to.

 

 

 



Category: Veterans Affairs


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