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.