What every veteran must know about the (now discontinued) RAMP appeals decision process, the new Appeals Reform law (AMA) and how they affect your claim.
Now concluded, the RAMP appeals process served as the pilot program for the streamlined, 3-laned review framework as set forth by the new VA appeals law. The modernized VA appeals system takes up where RAMP left off.
The Department of Veterans Affairs has significantly overhauled the VA disability claims appeals program. The new law for appeals reform is called the Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act of 2017. The “Act” is also referred to as Appeals Reform, Appeals Modernization Act, or simply AMA.
Veterans wait anywhere from 3 to 7 years on average for the VA to resolve their appeals for disability claims. The goal of the AMA is to dramatically improve VA’s outdated, complex appeals system and reduce the appalling wait times experienced by veterans. The new appeals process also sets out to preserve the earliest possible effective date for an award of benefits.
On August 23, 2017, the VA began rolling out its new VA appeals system over a period of eighteen months, to reach full implementation on February 19, 2019.
The RAMP appeals decision process – pilot program for the new law – has ended.
As part of the 18-month rollout, VA launched a pilot program ahead of the new AMA appeals process. This temporary program was called the Rapid Appeals Modernization Program, or RAMP, and began in November 2017.
Meanwhile, the existing “Legacy” appeals process was still in effect. The term “Legacy appeal” stems from any decision (whether from original, new, or reopened claims or SOCs/SSOCs) VA made before February 19, 2019.
Many veterans who had a Legacy appeal pending before the AMA law was implemented were able to participate in the new appeals system by way of RAMP.
Under RAMP—as with the AMA—veterans who disagree with a VA claim decision have greater choice in how VA reviews their appeal, featuring three “lanes” of VA claims decision review:
- Higher-Level Review – An entirely new review of the claim by an experienced adjudicator.
- Supplemental Claim – An opportunity to submit new and relevant evidence.
- Board Appeal – You want the Board of Veterans’ Appeals (VBA) to review your case. In this option, you will then select one of three dockets:
(1) Direct Review
(2) Evidence Submission
(3) Hearing Request
For more about RAMP and how the newly-implemented Appeals Modernization Act works, please read our article about the new VA appeals system.
In theory, veterans should experience a more straightforward appeals process and receive a timely decision while having more control over his or her decision disagreement.
Ramp Was Phased In as “Invitation Only,” then Opened to All Veterans
The purpose of RAMP was to test, evaluate and iron out any issues in the new process as well as give veterans the chance to use it.
For a while, veterans in certain stages of the appeals process were sent an invitation by letter from the VA, inviting them to opt-in to the RAMP process. These notices allowed the veterans to withdraw their claims from the Legacy appeals process and permanently opt-in to RAMP. Participation was voluntary.
However, fewer veterans than expected chose to participate. Many veterans were slow to embrace the new system and decided to stay put. VA abandoned its original “invitation only” plan. On April 1, 2018, RAMP was opened up to all veterans with pending Legacy appeals.
RAMP to AMA Timeline
August 23, 2017 AMA Enacted: President Trump signed bill H.R.2288 into law, as the Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act of 2017.
November 2017 RAMP is launched: Department of Veterans Affairs introduces the Rapid Appeals Modernization Program (RAMP). Eligible veterans in certain stages of their Legacy appeals could participate in RAMP by invitation.
April 2018 — Feb. 15, 2019 RAMP is opened to all Veterans: Any veteran with a pending appeal could participate/opt-in to RAMP.
February 15, 2019 RAMP is discontinued: As scheduled, VA stopped accepting RAMP opt-ins from veterans with a Legacy appeal, ahead of the full implementation of the AMA (which will continue the 3-lane system.)
February 19, 2019 AMA Implemented: Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act (AMA) is fully implemented by the VA.
How Does RAMP and/or the New AMA System Affect Your Claim?
All RAMP claims pending on or after February 15, 2019, will continue to be processed until the inventory is complete.
VA will receive new Legacy appeals through February 2020. VBA’s goal is to complete Legacy appeals in 2020. Pending Legacy claims (not opted-in to RAMP) will continue to be processed under the Legacy system.
- Veterans receiving a Rating Decision prior to February 19, 2019, who wish to remain in the Legacy system, have one year to file a Legacy NOD (through Feb. 2020). If no NOD is filed by that time, the appeal will end up in the new system.
- VA plans to review appeals in both the Legacy system and new AMA system at the same time, until such time as all Legacy-based appeals are resolved.
Move Legacy Appeals to AMA:
Under AMA, veterans with a pending Legacy appeal may opt-in to the new Appeals Reform system once they have received either:
- a Statement of the Case (SOC) –or-
- a Supplemental Statement of the Case (SSOC)
A veteran with a Legacy appeal has the later of two dates to submit an election for AMA:
- 60 days from the date of issuance of the SOC/SSOC, or
- The remainder of the one-year period from the date of the contested decision.
All VA disability claims filed on or after February 19, 2019, will be processed under the Appeals Modernization Act (AMA).
- Veterans who disagree with a claim decision under AMA have one year from the date of a decision to appeal it and proceed to choose one of the three appeal review lanes.
Will Appeals Reform Bring Genuine Help to the Flawed VA Benefits Process?
With such a massive change, it will take time (years) for everyone – the VA itself, VSOs, veterans attorneys – to canvass the different options, identify consequences of countless scenarios, determine reliable results, and really measure the pros and cons of the program.
Advocates of the Appeals Modernization Act have been quick to report an increase in decision time, meaning reduced wait times. We can only hope the new process speeds things up, yet the speed of adjudications must not bypass correctness.
The VA claim decision now goes from 1 option to 3 options, or 6 options if you count the dockets in the VBA Appeals lane. Tracking a VA claim’s status and keeping timely deadlines is already demanding. Now it is highly possible for a veteran to have claims in different stages under the both Legacy and the AMA systems. The backlog of undecided appeals under a single review option does not instill confidence in VA’s ability to handle, track and accurately adjudicate claims under many review options.
Veterans now have the additional burden of making serious choices about which “review lane” to choose, without any legal knowledge or understanding. These are case-by-case decisions where any type of blanket or general approach is inappropriate.
Free Consultation about Your VA Claim or Appeal under AMA
There is a huge checklist of factors and deliberations to address before making these decisions for the proper appeal in each veteran’s case.
Whether your disability benefits fall under Legacy, RAMP or AMA, we urge you to discuss your veterans claim or appeal with an accredited veterans’ attorney before making any decisions.
Be selective in your choice of attorney. Choose a law firm based on the skills, compassion, and experience of the people within it. At Marc Whitehead & Associates, our VA disability lawyers are recognized and trusted for their ability to handle the most complex veterans’ disability benefits matters.
We have served our Nation’s military in their claims and appeals since 1992, and we would be proud to serve you.