Update: Mandatory Implementation of the Veterans Appeals Improvement Act of 2017

A stamp-style image  of the word 'denied' in red ink.

Introduction

An update from Drew Early, attorney and StatesideLegal.org Advisory Board member:

Mandatory implementation of the Veterans Appeals Improvement Act (AMA) of 2017 will occur on February 19, 2019. 

What does this really mean?

Congress recognized the appalling wait times veterans and their eligible family members have been enduring as to appealing VA benefit decisions. 

With some 550,000 appeal pending and appeals taking in excess of four years, steps were made to "improve" the process.  The interim improvement was known as RAMP (Rapid Appeals Modernization Program) and the finalized version will follow the provisions of RAMP--3 appeals lanes (as before); with 2 appeals lanes done at the local level and formal appeal at the Board of Veterans Appeals. 

AMA was heavily marketed by VA as providing a mechanism for appeal resolution within 120 days.

Two issues that are foreseen with this:

  1. The existing backlog of traditional appeals is massive and will take time to be worked through.  Last FY, the BVA reported processing over 80,000 appeals in the FY, which was a new record for them.  Only problem was that even more appeals than that came in, so the backlog grew.  BVA is growing their staff but is in no way yet geared up to handle the workload.
  2. The interim RAMP and mandatory AMA lanes provide fewer rights to appellants than did the legacy system in that one of the new lanes for review does not provide for the introduction of any additional evidence.  That is why I have steered away from RAMP and encourage all my clients to stay with the legacy process. 

The takeaways I offer are:

  1. if there is an appealable issue out there and the appeal itself hasn't been filed--do so immediately under legacy rules and procedures, ask for a DRO hearing and that will provide an opportunity for follow-on BVA review, if need be and;
  2. I expect VA will engage in a lot of backpedaling/downplaying of the 120 day appeal processing time.  I would to see expect words such as "goal vs. standards" or "aspirational", or "objective, once all procedures are in place" will be used if true improvements are not readily seen or discernible.