Appeals reform is one of the most significant changes in decades to affect the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the Veterans it serves. Before the reform, Veterans who filed an appeal of their disability claims experienced a complex, non-linear process that was buried in several layers of the law. Moreover, the VA has struggled to keep pace with the growing number of appeals received over the past decade with the number of pending appeals growing 350% from 100,000 in fiscal year 2001 to 450,000 in fiscal year 2017.
Veterans deserve an appeals process that is simple, timely, transparent and fair. Because Veterans and their families were extremely frustrated by this complex, burdensome process, the VA sponsored an “Appeals Summit” in March 2016 to design a new appeals system in which Veterans Service Organizations, Veterans advocates and Congress worked together to outline a legislative proposal that offered Veterans quicker decisions in a more efficient process. The solution came when the President signed the Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act of 2017into law on August 23, 2017. Today, VA is working toward full implementation of the law in February 2019.
The Appeals Modernization Act created a new system, featuring three processing lanes: higher-level review, a supplemental claim, and an appeal to the Board of Veterans Appeals (BVA). Veterans with an active appeal can now choose between two of three lanes before full implementation of the law takes place in February 2019. This early opportunity to opt in to the modernized system is called the Rapid Appeals Modernization Program, or RAMP. Participation is voluntary, but Veterans are highly encouraged to opt in to RAMP to receive faster decisions on their appeals. Implementation of BVA’s appeals lane for Veterans who have appealed their RAMP decision is expected to begin in October 2018.
VA is not waiting until February 2019 to begin improving the process for Veterans.Both BVA and the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) have a workforce plan to recruit, hire and train new employees, as well as implement new processes and technology into the appeals system. As of July 2018, more than 35,000 Veterans have chosen RAMP and, to date, more than $30 million in retroactive benefits have been paid to Veterans. Currently, the average processing of appeals under the previous law is 3 years. Under RAMP, VA’s goal is to process claims in an average of 125 days. VA is also focused on resolving legacy appeals for Veterans. VBA’s legacy production is approximately 7 percent above the fiscal year 2018 target. Additionally, VBA has issued more than 64,000 decisions thus far in 2018, a historic high for any fiscal year, and is on track to deliver over 81,000 decisions to Veterans by the end of the fiscal year.
“VA remains deeply committed to helping Veterans receive the benefits they have earned in a manner that honors their service and fosters a culture of collaboration with all our stakeholders,” said Dave McLenachen, Director of VA’s Appeals Management Office.