On August 23, President Trump signed into law the “Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act of 2017” (“The Act”). The Act is meant to speed up the appeals process for veterans seeking VA disability compensation. By February of 2019, The Act is intended to simplify the current appeals process by allowing veterans to choose one of three paths to appeal their claims. Under The Act, the disabled veterans can do ONE of the following:
Ø request a “higher-level” VA rater to review their case (without new evidence) and issue a decision; or
Ø appeal, with new evidence or information, to the same rater who originally denied their claim; or,
Ø have the appeal sent straight to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals (BVA).
Q: When will this new appeals process take effect?
A: The earliest the appeals reform bill will become effective is February 14, 2019 which is 540 days from the signing of the bill. The bill was signed on August 23, 2017 so there will be no change to the appeals process until February 14, 2019 or later.
Q: Should I wait to start my NEW claim until after The Act takes effect?
A: No. You should file your initial claim as soon as possible. If your claim is granted, VA will pay past-due benefits starting from the date you filed your claim. So, waiting to submit your claim until after The Act becomes effective WILL cause you to receive less compensation.
Q: Should I wait to file an appeal until The Act takes effect?
A: Again, No. You only have one year from the date of your Rating Decision (VA’s decision on your initial claim) in which to file an appeal. So DO NOT WAIT!
Q: Can I opt in to the new system once it’s enacted?
A: YES, Veterans with pending claims will be able to opt in to the new appeals process if they receive notice of a decision on an initial claim on or after the date the Act is enacted (likely February 14, 2019). You can also opt in after receiving a Statement of the Case or Supplemental Statement of the Case on or after the date the Act is enacted. Further the new RAMP initiative will allow select disabled veterans the right to opt-in to SOME of the new process.
The new appeals process, in theory, is supposed to streamline the process that tends to increase wait times. Mainly, the new changes target the processes surrounding new evidence and hearings. As it is right now, veterans can submit new evidence at any point during their appeal, which causes an additional round of reviews and drives up wait times (UNTIL THE APPEAL IS “CERTIFIED” TO THE BVA). The disabled veterans wait years just to get a hearing scheduled.
In this step, after receiving an Initial Denial, you appeal and the appeal goes back to your VA Regional Office (usually). However, you can request the review to be done at a DIFFERENT Regional Office in some circumstances.
A “more senior” VA Rater will then perform a completely new (de novo) review of your entire claims file. BUT, you cannot send in new evidence and the decision will be made based ONLY on the evidence already in your claims file. The VA has NO DUTY TO ASSIST the disabled veteran in getting evidence required to prove the claim.
Choosing this track after an initial denial results in your appeal going back to your VA Regional Office (usually). This basically becomes a “new” claim in my opinion, because this is a claim for the exact same benefits you were just denied, BUT you are also REQUIRED to send in “New & Relevant” evidence. Here, the VA does have a “Duty to Assist” you in getting the evidence required to win your claim. It is really no different than the current appeals process of just starting all over.
This third and final track of the New Appeals Process means that once your original claim is denied, you can SKIP the review at your VA Regional Office and instead decide whether or not you want a “Hearing” either in-person or by videoteleconference with the BVA Veterans Law Judge.
The BVA will separate appeals into those wishes a Board Hearing and those not wanting a Board Hearing, supposedly to speed up the entire process. Here, new evidence is supposedly optional, but we really just don’t know yet.
As mentioned above, the VA’s “Duty to Assist” the disabled veteran (for example, their obligation to help veterans get their medical records, service records and private records) during the claims process will only apply to original claims and supplemental claims. The duty to assist law would no longer apply to the Board or to claims filed on the Higher Level Adjudication track.
This means that the VA will ONLY help disabled veterans locate and submit medical records, military service records and/or private medical care records at the initial and supplemental claims stages. After that, you are on your own.
Read my post on RAMP to find out if you should enroll.