During the House Veterans Affairs Committee hearing, “Is VA Ready for Full Implementation of Appeals Reform?”, officials from the Department of Veterans Affairs testified that VA is on-track to meeting its February 2019 goal for full implementation of Appeals Reform. Nonetheless, VA has acknowledged that a significant amount of appeals will remain pending in the Legacy appeals system even after the new system takes full effect. To address this overlap, VA has developed its Comprehensive Plan for Processing of Legacy Appeals and Implementing the New Appeals System.
The main goal of this comprehensive plan is to eliminate the inventory of Legacy appeals as quickly as possible while also maintaining timely processing under Appeals Reform. Importantly, claimants have the option to opt in to Appeals Reform at any point during the Notice of Disagreement stage, or after receiving either a Statement of the Case or a Supplemental Statement of the Case. If claimants would like to opt in following one of those decisions, they will have to do so within 60 days of the decision. However, it is important to note that opting in to Appeals Reform is an all or nothing proposition.
Appeals in the new system, legacy system, or both?
When a claimant opts in to Appeals Reform, VA is supposed to formally withdraw all of the claimant’s pending appeals from the Legacy system which are eligible for the new system. Essentially, this encompasses all of a claimant’s disability claims on appeal. However, this excludes any appeals for pension claims, survivors’ claims, or appeals certified and activated at the Board level.
Claimants cannot specify which appeals they would like to keep in the Legacy system versus which appeals they would like to have in the new appeals system. For example, a claimant cannot specify that a pending appeal for entitlement to an increased rating for post-traumatic stress disorder be opted into Appeals Reform while a pending appeal for entitlement to service connection for a back condition remains in the Legacy system, provided these appeals are not certified and activated at the Board.
Additionally, once a claimant opts into the new system, the decision is permanent and he or she cannot return to the Legacy appeals system.