Is the VA’s New Appeals Process Working Better for Veterans?

The following article applies to the Rapid Appeals Modernization Program (“RAMP”), a pilot appeals program for the Appeals Modernization Act (“AMA”). RAMP was in operation from November 2017 to February 2019 when AMA was fully implemented. Some of the information provided in that article may not apply to the new appeals system, AMA.

For a long time now the VA has been plagued with a troublesome backlog in disability claims appeals which has now ballooned more than 400 thousand cases. Since November of 2017, the VA has been rolling out a new program intended to speed up the settlement of VA disability appeals and reduce the backlog.  Under this new program called the Rapid Appeals Modernization Program, or RAMP, vets must choose one of the two, new processing lanes: the Higher-Level Review Lane or the Supplemental Claim Lane. The Higher Level Review option is used if a vet has no additional evidence to submit in support of their claim but believes that there was an error in the initial decision. Vets with additional evidence that is new and relevant to support their benefit claim use the Supplemental Claim Lane.

So how well has this new program been accepted and how well is it working?  So far reception by vets of the new program has been lukewarm. In the first 9 months of the program more than 250 thousand notices were sent to eligible veterans. To date a little less than 14 percent of those notified have opted into RAMP. About two-thirds of those who chose to participate did not submit additional evidence and selected the Higher Level Review Lane and about one-third chose the Supplemental Claim Lane where they did present additional evidence.

RAMP cases are moving faster through the disability appeals process—taking an average of 85 days to completion, but the low rate of opt-ins have resulted in only lowering the appeals backlog by about ten percent.

RAMP is supposed to be fully operational by February 2019, but the technology improvements needed to make the new system work are behind schedule. The VA says the IT systems should be ready to go, but should there be more delays, the Veterans Benefits Administration is prepared to implement the new process manually.

While veterans who choose RAMP are promised a quicker decision, they need to know there are disadvantages, as well. They are barred from going back to the legacy appeals process and they cannot to take their claim directly to the Board of Veterans Appeals.

If you have applied for VA disability and you believe you were unfairly denied benefits, don’t give up. Call us at Cuddigan Law for a free evaluation of your case. If you have received a RAMP notification and are unsure of what is your next best move, we can also review with you the pros and cons of RAMP and help you make an informed decision.

Sean D. Cuddigan
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SSA and VA Disability Attorney in Omaha, Nebraska