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Sean Kendall

Experts Expressed Skepticism of VA’s Plans for Appeals Modernization - While Some Concerns Remain, Opting Into the RAMP May Be a Positive Decision for Many Veterans.


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4/6/2018
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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 2019, 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 realize 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 its concerns about the need to update technology quickly if the transition is going to go smoothly. GAO further 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.

VA Expands the RAMP Program After Many Organizations Find Flaws 

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

The RAMP is a program through which a veteran with a pending appeal can withdraw her or his appeal and transfer it into a trial version of the new system. Veterans who opt in to the RAMP can choose between 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; and 2) the Supplemental Claim Lane, through which veterans can submit new evidence. If veterans receive a complete or partial denial within the RAMP, they have one year from the date of their RAMP decision to appeal to another lane or to the Board of Veterans' Appeals. See our blog regarding appeals within the RAMP system for more information. 

The original version of the RAMP, which was only open to veterans who were invited, was controversial. Organizations such as VFW hesitated to encourage clients to try the RAMP because it: 1) knew that the RAMP would result in veterans, many of whom had already been waiting years to appeal, essentially giving up their place in line at the Board; and 2) was unclear about whether, in practice, the RAMP would expedite veterans’ claims. Concerns were heightened by the fact that once a veteran opts in to the RAMP, she or he cannot return to the old system. 

On April 1, 2018, the RAMP became available to all veterans with a pending appeal. A veteran's appeal is "pending" for purposes of the RAMP if she or he is waiting for a decision in one of the following stages: 1) Notice of Disagreement; 2) Form 9; 3) "Certified to the Board but not yet activated for a Board decision;" or 4) "Remand from the Board to VBA."

While we were unsure of the RAMP at first, we have found that the RAMP can be a very positive option for veterans, as long as they properly develop their cases before opting in. In other words, a claim that was denied outside of the RAMP is likely to be denied within the RAMP, albeit more quickly, unless the veteran takes additional steps to support her or his claim. Therefore, it is critical that veterans who hope to succeed in the RAMP speak with an experienced veterans' law attorney about case development.

We Can Make RAMP Work For You - Call Us Before Opting Into the RAMP

At the Law Offices of Attorney Sean Kendall, we know what kind of claim development it takes to make the RAMP work for you. Therefore, before you opt in to the RAMP, send us a note or give us a call at (877)-629-1712. With decades of combined experience fighting on behalf of veterans, we are confident we have what it takes to win you the benefits you deserve. 

 

 

 



Category: Veterans Affairs

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3 Comments to "Experts Skeptical of VA’s Plans for Appeals Modernization"

I was in the DRO position in the Legacy appeals. I have been in the hamster wheel with my claim since March 2015. I received a RAMP invite on April 01, 2018. I had all the necessary documents, VA hospital records, nexus letters, combat action proof of events, TDIU under SSDI approved etc. plus I secured experienced legal representation to comb over my appeal case prior to "opting in" RAMP.

I would highly advise that the veteran take the time and secure an "experienced VA attorney" BEFORE the vet makes any moves concerning their NOD, appeal etc into this new RAMP lane. Some vets say that they don't want to lose 20% of their back pay to a VA lawyer to fight for them and decide to go it alone. Bad move veterans! We're talking the rest of your life here! No time to stumble now.

The VA has top notch lawyers/doctors waiting to shred your claim/appeal so why aren't you obtaining the same power on your end? This is for the rest of your life ya know! Your attorney will make sure you have all the oars in the water to row upstream so to speak and win. If a lawyer sees 's you don't have a chance to win, they won't take your case, it's that simple. You have to do your homework like I did and made it very simple for my attorney to be ahead of the game and not have to fist fight with you plus the VA.

My "opt-in" RAMP was in the Higher Level Review Lane -(HLR) without a teleconference and was received at the VA on April 09, 2018. As of this post, it's been 90 days of the sketchy 125-day window the VA claims it should take to complete the RAMP process. Sadly enough, the VA tacked on an additional 53 days to my 125 pushing me back to late Sept 2018. Imagine that.

There isn't any information regarding where your RAMP is being processed in the USA. It necessarily isn't your regional office that has it. Selected locations are mandated as this program continues until Feb 2019 when the "real deal" appeals are supposed to take over RAMP.
Calling the 1000 number to ask questions about your RAMP will net the same old broken record screenshot they are told to tell you. Absolutely nothing.

The websites such as vets.gov and eBenefits won't show it either. These sites are not working in conjunction with each other as of this post. One says one thing and the other says it can't provide any RAMP information. Par for the course. The vet is left in the dark about this new process just like the legacy one. Your lawyer can't find it out either so we're all stuck in the mud.

I did see some movement where the reviewer requested information from sources 6 times and they received the requested information. The status on eBenefits still show's "claim accepted." See what I mean about the information to the vet is like "jumping through hoops." So as it goes per this post, July 09, 2018, I have no other "good" information to share regarding RAMP.

Again, I highly suggest you secure a highly knowledgeable and experienced VA lawyer to represent you especially when you're in this stage of your VA claim. Remember, it's for the rest of your life at stake here. Knowledge is Power, make sure you utilize it against the VA claims arena.
Good luck!
Posted by SSG Rock on July 9, 2018 at 02:54 AM
The Ramp program can work , if u give it a chance. ROME was not built in a day. You got to have trust and believe in the system...
Posted by James Curtis on May 28, 2018 at 05:53 PM
Very interesting article and I'm glad I read it before jumping into the RAMP program. It seems like it might be favorable for some and others not so much. So obviously it would be of great importance to determine which category you are in first! I am one of the thousands in the appeals process and have been waiting for a considerably long time. My local American Legion rep had recommended I go to my congressman to bring more pressure to bear on the situation. Well, I have done that several months ago and no result yet. When I call the congressman's local office to speak with the person he has assigned to handle VA and military issues, she tells me the same thing everytime. She does an inquiry to the VA to get an update on my status and what they send back is simply acknowledgement of the appeal they have recieved, the date of the original denial and the fact that appeal decisions can take up to 3 years.So at this point, the congressional involvement hasn't accomplished anything more than I was getting on my own by calling VA to inquire status. I feel I have a strong appeal case as the VA denied my claim before I had faxed the supporting documents to them, which was just 6 days later. Then, they neglected to inform me of their denial to my claim and I find out 10 months later during one of my follow-up phone calls. If another two months had gone by, my one year right to appeal would have expired and I guess I would be SOL for sure then. So now I'm almost a year into this 3 year window they mention so I'm not too anxious to jump out of it and go into a program that hasn't really been tested for efficiency, fairness or for that matter timeliness. So I guess I should stay put and and just wait it out?
Posted by Jeffrey Lowe on May 26, 2018 at 03:55 PM

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