CCK Founding Partner Robert V. Chisholm was recently published in the Spring 2018 issue of the American Bar Association’s Administrative & Regulatory Law News. His article, “An On-Ramp to the Future of VA Appeals,” discusses VA’s Rapid Appeals Modernization Program (RAMP), and the Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act of 2017 (VAIMA).
What Is RAMP?
The Rapid Appeals Modernization Program (RAMP) is VA’s pilot program for VAIMA. The program was launched in October 2017 by invitation only to veterans that VA identified as having the oldest appeals, and invited them to opt in to the program with the promise that they would receive a decision quicker than if they stayed in VA’s legacy appeals system. The legacy appeals system refers to the current VA appeals process.
Under VAIMA, veterans can choose one of three lanes to appeal a VA decision: Higher Level Review, Supplemental Claim, or an appeal directly to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals. RAMP allows veterans to appeal their decision through the Higher Level Review lane or Supplemental Claim lane. The Board recently announced that it will begin hearing cases appealed through RAMP in October 2018.
Due to low participation rates in the program, as of April 1, 2018, VA expanded participation in the program to any veteran who has a pending appeal that is not before the Board of Veterans’ Appeals. VAIMA is expected to go into effect in February 2019.
What Do the Three Lanes Mean?
The three lanes available in RAMP are Higher Level Review, Supplemental Claim, and appeal to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals.
The Higher Level Review lane allows a higher-up VA official to review and potentially overturn previous decisions based on a difference of opinion, or return the decision for any correction. Veterans cannot submit new evidence to be reviewed in Higher Level Review.
The Supplemental Claim lane gives veterans the opportunity to submit new evidence in support of their claim. In this lane, VA has a duty to assist veterans in finding and obtaining evidence. This is the only lane in which VA has the duty to assist.
The Board of Veterans’ Appeals lane is available beginning in October 2018. In this lane, veterans can appeal their case directly to the Board for review.
What Are the Stats?
VA sent out claimants opting in to the program. Two-thirds of those claimants opted in to the Higher Level Review lane, with the remainder opting in to the Supplemental Claim lane. VA has completed 304 decisions through RAMP with a grant rate of 56.9%. The legacy appeals system has a historical grant rate of 25%.
What Are the Advantages and Disadvantages of Opting In To RAMP?
According to VA, advantages of opting in to the program include:
- Potentially receiving a faster decision than in the legacy appeals system;
- A claimant has multiple options for appealing and review of a claim;
- Potentially maintaining the same effective date;
- Receiving a more robust explanation for denials; and
- A new requirement that VA must have clear and convincing evidence to reverse favorable findings for veterans in past decisions.
Disadvantages to opting in will depend on a veteran’s specific circumstances and the details of their case. For claimants who are going to have to wait a long time for a Board decision, opting in to RAMP may be advisable. Additionally, those who recently filed claims in the legacy system may benefit from opting in to RAMP.
Claimants should be sure to discuss the decision to opt in with their representatives.
It is important to remember that once claimants opt into the RAMP program, they cannot return to the legacy appeals system.
***UPDATE: As of May 2018, 16,547 claimants have opted in to RAMP. Of those who opted in, 65% have opted in to the Higher Level Review lane, and 35% have opted in to the Supplemental Claim lane. The overall grant rate for RAMP appeals is 39%.