RAMP'ing Up For More Delays?

As many disabled veterans have heard by now, the President signed into Law the  Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act of 2017 ("The Act") which is an attempt by Congress and the VA to speed up the backlogged Disability Hearing and Appeals Process.

The Dept. of Veterans Affairs (VA) rolled out RAMP on November 2nd, 2017, which is the first chance for disabled veterans to enter the new appeals process outlined in  "The Act".

"The Act", signed into law on August 23, 2017, will not take full effect until February 2019. But the new program – "RAMP" (Rapid Appeals Modernization Program), will allow some veterans currently appealing their claims the right to participate in some, BUT NOT ALL parts of the new appeals system.

After "The Act" became law, VA immediately began the 18-month implementation of the new process. The new system is intended to streamline the VA’s current appeals process (now called "legacy appeals process"), which has received much criticism for its inefficiency and excessive wait-times. 

By February 2019, all appeals should be processed under the new system. For now, though, veterans who want to appeal a VA decision can choose to remain in the legacy appeals process or participate in RAMP.

WHAT MEANS WHAT?

All of these new, old, and in-between systems are very confusing, even to experienced representatives and veterans. What follows is an attempt to explain exactly what is happening:

The "Legacy appeals process" is nothing more than the current VA appeals process.

All veterans who have already filed appeals are participating in this process. Veterans who are just now getting ready to appeal a denial, will be placed into the "legacy appeals process", UNLESS they are allowed to participate in the RAMP program.

The new appeals process ("The Act") presents a "three-lane appeals process" that will not take full effect until AT LEAST February 2019.

You can read all about how the new process will work and see it in visual form on this webpage.

RAMP (Rapid Appeals Modernization Program) is the "in-between", and optional appeals process that allows certain veterans filing their first appeal to participate in two out of three of the “lanes” that will make up the new appeals system

HOW DOES THE RAMP PROGRAM WORK?

Participation in RAMP is voluntary, and in fact, the VA is currently only "inviting" select disabled veterans to participate. However, disabled veterans who do elect to participate in the RAMP program will not be able to return to the legacy appeals process, EVER.  In other words, can you opt in to the new appeals process but you cannot opt out.

Veterans who submitted a claim, and have been denied (for the first time) by VA, can choose participate in RAMP. The program allows participants to have their decisions reviewed in the "Higher-Level" or "Supplemental Claim" review lanes outlined in "The Act".

The "Higher-Level Review Lane" allows a "higher-up" (more senior) VA official to review and maybe overturn previous decisions based on a difference of opinion, or return the decision for correction. But the veteran cannot submit new evidence to be reviewed.

The "Supplemental Claim Lane" allows veterans to submit new evidence in support of their claim. This is the only lane in which VA has a duty to assist veterans in finding or obtaining evidence.

Veterans participating in RAMP will NOT be able to use the third lane in the new appeals process, meaning they cannot submit their claims directly to the Board of Veterans Appeals (BVA).

IT IS VERY IMPORTANT TO UNDERSTAND THAT If a disabled veteran’s claim is again denied during participation in RAMP (either at the Higher-Level review or Supplemental Claim lane), then that disabled veteran will only be able to appeal to the BVA after February 2019, which is when the new appeals process is supposed to be in full effect.

SHOULD I PARTICIPATE IN RAMP?

According to VA, disabled veterans can expect to receive a review of their initial decision faster in RAMP than in the legacy appeals process. However, this is only what is SUPPOSED to happen, not what is guaranteed to happen. Further, participating in RAMP means not being able to appeal a further denial to the BVA until at least February 2019, which means that the disabled veteran is then placed in line with appeals that have been already been pending for many years.  Participation also means not being able to take their claim directly to the BVA, AND never going back to the "legacy appeals process".

AT HALE LAW OFFICE, WE ARE ADVISING DISABLED VETERANS TO NOT PARTICIPATE IN THE RAMP PROGRAM.

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