Since the Department of Veterans’ Affairs’ ("VA") Rapid Appeals Modernization Program (“RAMP”), the VA’s pilot program for its upcoming implementation of the Veterans’ Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act (“the Act”), abandoned its initial invitation-only approach, countless veterans have opted in. However, with the implementation of the Act still many months away, one question has been on every veteran’s mind: what do I do if my claim is denied within RAMP?
Those who have their claims denied within RAMP can have the decision reviewed by filing VA Form 21-4138, Statement in Support of Claim, RAMP Selection (“the form”) within one year after receiving a notice of decision. The information below, including quoted information, is derived from the form or the “RAMP Review Rights” information sheet which accompanies the form.
There are four review options: 1) supplemental claim; 2) higher-level review; 3) higher-level review with an informal telephone conference; and 4) review by the Board of Veterans’ Appeals (“the Board”). The form requires the veteran to select one type of review for all of the veteran’s issues. However, the veteran can use the form to file for review multiple times. For example, if a veteran chooses to seek review through a supplemental claim, yet receives an unsatisfactory decision, she or he can file the form once again in pursuit of higher-level review.
Review by Supplemental Claim
The supplemental claim option allows a veteran to introduce new and relevant evidence to the VA. The VA will consider the new and relevant evidence before making a new decision on the claim.
Under the higher-level review option, a designated reviewer re-examines the veteran’s claim using only the evidence that was included in the veteran’s original claim. While the reviewer has discretion to overturn negative findings made by the veteran’s local office, the reviewer cannot overturn any favorable decision made by the local office unless there is “clear and unmistakable” evidence indicating that the local office’s decision was incorrect.
The reviewer may also determine that the local office failed to fulfill its duty to assist the veteran in obtaining evidence. In that case, the claim will be returned to the local office for development.
It is important to note that the higher-level review option is not available to veterans who have previously received a decision on behalf of the Board or a higher-level reviewer. In other words, higher-level review can only be used once during the RAMP process.
Higher-Level Review with an Informal Telephone Conference
Veterans can also opt for the “higher-level review with an informal telephone conference” option. This option allows the veteran to supplement their higher-level review, as described above, with a telephone conference with the reviewer. The conference allows the veteran to point out specific flaws made during the initial evaluation of the claim.
Like the higher-level review option, this option can only be used once and cannot be used if the veteran has already received a decision on behalf of the Board or a higher-level reviewer.
It should be noted that, according to the form, “this option may cause some delay in the processing of [the review].”
Review by the Board of Veterans’ Appeals
Finally, a veteran can choose to seek review by the Board. This is the most complicated option for two reasons.
First, any veteran considering this option should know that the Board will not begin processing claims until February 14th, 2019.
Second, a veteran pursuing this option will have to choose which type of Board review she or he wants to pursue. There are three types of Board review: 1) direct review; 2) evidence submission; and 3) a hearing.
If a veteran chooses a direct review, the Board will examine only the evidence which was evaluated by the previous adjudicator. Further, the veteran will not have an opportunity for a hearing.
If a veteran chooses evidence submission, the veteran will have the opportunity to submit additional evidence, as long as the evidence is submitted within 90 days of the date the Board receives the request. As with the direct review option, the veteran will not have an opportunity for a hearing.
Finally, if a veteran chooses a hearing, the veteran may submit new evidence within 90 days of the hearing, and the veteran will be allowed to testify before the Board. Therefore, the Board will consider the old evidence, the new evidence, and the veteran’s testimony before making a decision. The form indicates that a veteran who chooses this option may experience “some delay in receiving a decision by the Board.” Please note that, out of all of the options, this is the only opportunity to have a hearing.
How to Request Review of a RAMP Decision
Once a veteran has made her or his decision regarding which type of review she or he would like to pursue, the veteran must mail or fax the form to one of the offices listed below.
Veterans seeking higher-level review or review through a supplemental claim should send the form and the provided coversheet to:
DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS
EVIDENCE INTAKE CENTER
PO BOX 4444
JANESVILLE WI 53547-4444
Veterans seeking review by the Board of Veterans’ Appeals should send the form to the address below. Supporting evidence should be sent to the same address within 90 days of appeal to the Board.
BOARD OF VETERANS’ APPEALS
PO BOX 27063
WASHINGTON DC 20038
How to Review RAMP Decisions After the One-Year Deadline Has Passed
If a veteran seeks to review a RAMP decision more than one year after receiving a notice of decision, there are two options. First, the veteran can claim that the decision was based on a “clear and unmistakable error.” Second, the veteran can “file a supplemental claim along with new and relevant evidence to support [her or his] issue.”
How to Seek Review of a RAMP Decision After RAMP Ends
If a veteran seeks to review a RAMP decision after RAMP ends and they are still within the one-year period, they can file for review under the new appeals system established by the Act.
How to Win Your Claim in the RAMP System
While the RAMP system has the potential to help many veterans get the benefits they deserve, that potential is limited if veterans fail to adequately develop their cases before opting into RAMP or pursuing an appeal/review within RAMP. Therefore, veterans should speak with an experienced veterans’ law attorney before placing their cases into the hands of RAMP.
With decades of experience cutting through the VA’s bias to win veterans the benefits they deserve, we are confident we can help you get the most out of RAMP. When you are ready to opt in or pursue review of a RAMP decision, send us a note or give us a call at (877)-629-1712.