According to VA’s November 2018 report on its Comprehensive Plan for Processing of Legacy Appeals and Implementing the New System, the metrics and goals for the new appeals system continue to indicate that VA is on track for full implementation by February 14, 2019. However, claimants currently have the option to opt in to Appeals Reform prior to that date.
How to opt in to Appeals Reform
Claimants are able to leave the Legacy appeals system and opt in to Appeals Reform after receiving an initial decision, a Statement of the Case, or a Supplemental Statement of the Case. To opt in after receiving an initial decision, claimants must select either the supplemental claim lane, higher-level review lane, or NOD lane within one year of the date VA issued the initial decision. If claimants would like to opt in after receiving either a Statement of the Case or a Supplemental Statement of the Case, they will have to do so within 60 days of the date VA issued its decision. Going forward, all of the Statements of the Case will contain information regarding the process for opting in to the new system. It is important to note that any appeal filed between now and the official implementation of Appeals Reform will go into the Legacy appeals system, unless claimants specifically opt-in as outlined above. However, once Appeals Reform is completely enacted, there will no longer be an opt-in requirement, as that will be the only way to appeal an unfavorable decision. To ensure this transition occurs, VA will stop accepting Notices of Disagreement for legacy claims one year after Appeals Reform goes into full effect, thereby requiring participation in Appeals Reform to continue the appeals process. The Appeals Reform system is currently accessible through the Rapid Appeals Modernization (RAMP) pilot program.
RAMP opt-in statistics
VA created RAMP as a way to test the new appeals system before it goes into full effect in February of 2019. There were approximately 60,000 RAMP opt-ins from November of 2017 to September of 2018, increasing the national opt-in rate from 3 percent to 17 percent. Additionally, RAMP elections have produced roughly $80,596,288 in retroactive benefits paid to claimants on 18,789 completed claims. As of now, RAMP will continue to operate until the official implementation of Appeals Reform. Although it is not anticipated, if Appeals Reform is not certified to be operational in February of 2019, RAMP will extend until Appeals Reform is officially certified.
Can claimants return to the legacy appeals process after opting in to Appeals Reform?
Similar to RAMP, once a claimant opts in to the new system the decision is permanent and he or she cannot return to the Legacy appeals system. Specifically, the switch triggers VA to formally withdraw claimants’ claims from the old system and process them in the new system. When Appeals Reform becomes effective in February of 2019, all requests for review of VA decisions will be processed under the new, multi-lane process.