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va appeals modernization RAMP

VA RAMP.

If you are a veteran handling your own VA claim or appeal, you’ve no doubt heard the phrase.

Maybe even the VA has asked you to opt your appeals into the VA RAMP process.

But has anyone told you what it means?

I mean REALLY told you…the straight scoop?

Probably not.

So here’s the deal.

Technically, VA RAMP refers to yet another VA pilot program: the VA Rapid Appeals Modernization Program.

This pilot program – VA RAMP – is testing something very specific. Let’s talk about what VA RAMP is NOT testing, first.

It is NOT testing a way to make Appeals faster.

It is NOT testing a way to make Appeals better.

It is NOT testing a way to avoid having to file an appeal.

It is testing the “assumptions” made when the VA strong-armed Congress into passing the Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act of 2017 last August.

Yeah, you read that right. The VA pitched a program to Congress based on assumptions it had NO IDEA would be effective.

The VA sold Congress snake oil. And Congress bought it.

Now they are testing the snake oil to see if it works.

And, they have asked many of you to drink the snake oil.  Because if YOUR claim or appeal gets screwed up, well, that’s just how the VA rolls.

So, you won’t hear me talking about “VA RAMP” .

In fact, I strongly caution any veteran against participating in the VA RAMP program.

Here are a few reasons why:

  1. You will NOT get a BVA decision faster – in fact, by participating in VA RAMP, you guarantee you won’t get one before February 2019.
  2. You will NOT get a DRO decision faster.  In fact, you won’t get a DRO review at all. You “might” get a “Higher Level Review”, which the VA is telling people is “like” a DRO.  But it’s not at all like a DRO review
  3. You have to GIVE UP the Duty to Assist.  That means you give up an important legal protection when the VA screws you over.
  4. You have to waive certain rights to appeal certain claims.

And that’s just the beginning.

Here, though, is the Number 1 reason that you should NOT participate in the VA RAMP program.

If you do NOT opt in, and just WAIT a few more months, the VA is going to scrap RAMP and roll out the new VA Appeals Modernization Reforms.

Why buy a cheap and untested knock-off when you can wait a few months and buy the real deal?

So, with that in mind, let’s talk about what is coming in the “Real Deal”, and not waste our time dealing with being a lab rat for the ill-conceived ideas of government bureaucrats.

Keep in mind that the more something has to be explained, the less likely it is to be successful.  Since the first day the VA rolled out its “modernization plan”, I have been convinced of one thing:

VA Appeals Modernization and Reform is destined for failure because it is just too complex to easily explain to Veterans, and too complex for an overwhelmed bureaucracy to easily manage.

But, it’s the new roller coaster, and we all have to ride it, so let’s jump on board and start figuring it out.

VA Appeals Modernization and Reform.

Although the law was passed in August 2017, it won’t take effect until at least February 2019.  You see, the VA needs to issue regulations that tell their employees how to interpret the statutes.

VA Appeals Modernization makes massive structural and procedural changes to the VA Appeals process.

The VA believes it will fix its appeals process and appeals processing timelines, and it does so by making 2 key changes to the VA disability appeals system.

VA Appeals Modernization Structural Change #1

Under the current process – which will now be called the “Legacy Appeals” process – the veteran or survivor must file  a notice of disagreement (NOD) to a VA ratings decision.

The VA can continue the denial of the claim through a Statement of the Case (SOC) and the veteran must then file a substantive appeal (typically on VA Form 9).

The appeal is then certified – or “activated” –  to the BVA, and in about 5-8 years it is docketed for a hearing. After the hearing, the appeal is placed in another multi-year queue for a BVA decision.

That process is largely going to be scrapped.

Under the NEW system – which will not likely be implemented before February 2019 – once the VA denies a claim (or better said, if you are not satisfied with a formal VA decision) you will be able to take one of 3 appellate options:

Option 1: Supplemental Claims

Option 2:Higher Level Review

Option 3: BVA Hearing

There are pros and cons to each option, and each option will affect the unique strategy of your case differently, in ways that cannot be fully envision at this point in time.

The general idea was to reduce BVA hearing wait times by creating a system where hearings are an option of necessity, after full development, not a Veteran’s mere knee-jerk reaction to a denial. This “solution” fails to take note that the real reason veterans automatically file appeals is a reaction to low quality in VA Ratings decisions.

In other words, the problem is not “process”, it is “trust”.

Veterans don’t trust the VA. Most of us think the VA is full of crap about most things, and our disability compensation is too important to “trust” with the VA.

Sorry to all the good people at the VA reading this, but the VA has played games with veterans and our claims for so long that our community really is at a tipping point.

Bottom line, if the VA would focus its daily energy on rebuilding trust with veterans, then the process would take care of itself.

In any event, understanding that there are 3 appeals options under the new system is critical to understanding the new system.

I will talk more about each of the 3 options in more detail over the coming weeks and months.

As the system “rolls out”, we should be alert to VA blogs and message boards and forums to see what is and is not working for our claims and appeals, so we can learn to make the new system work for us.

VA Appeals Modernization Structural Change #2:

One of the biggest problems in the current (aka, soon to be called “Legacy” system) is how long it took an appeal to get to the BVA. As a result, veteran’s disabilities  looked so much different at the time of the BVA hearing then they did  8 years earlier when the appeal  was first filed.

The second structural change was an attempt to address that problem.

Once the new law goes into effect, if a veteran or survivor chooses the appeal option of a BVA hearing option, that veteran will  have to opt into 1 of 3 hearing “lanes”.

BVA hearings will be sorted into a slow, medium and fast lane, depending on much factual development of the record was still needed or required, and what sort of hearing, if any, might be needed.

Your choice of  BVA hearing lane will be decided by whether you want to add new evidence to your appeal before the hearing, and if so, when you want to introduce that evidence or whether you want a BVA Hearing.

Confused? Yeah….I guarantee the VA is too.

Trying to explain this new VA appeals process  is like trying to describe the color blue. While the VA sold Congress on its simplicity, it’s unsurprisingly complex and impenetrable.

I’m going to talk more about the new BVA hearing lanes in a later post, as this one is getting long already

Big Takeaways:

1) VA Appeals are about to change in a BIG way.

2) The VA wants you to be the “lab rat” and opt in to a test of the new system (the test is called VA RAMP).

3) Tests NEVER work out well for the lab rats. I think most Veterans are instinctively aware of this, as only 1.5% (or some shockingly low number) have opted in to the new system.

4) The new system for appeals has 2 major changes: the “types” of appeals you can file, and the types of hearing lanes you can select (there are thousands of minor changes, all of which I hope to talk about in the coming weeks and months).

Stay tuned for more……

 

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