VA’s Rapid Appeals Modernization Program (RAMP) has now been in effect for several months, and as more veterans opt in to the program, we took a look at some sample RAMP decisions to see what they included and how they differ from decisions in the Legacy Appeals system. We looked at decisions from the two appeal lanes currently available in the RAMP program: Supplemental Claim and Higher Level Review. The third lane, appealing directly to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals, will not open until October 2018.
Background: What Is the Rapid Appeals Modernization Program (RAMP)?
The Rapid Appeals Modernization Program (RAMP) is VA’s pilot program for the new appeals reform system scheduled to go into effect in February 2019. RAMP allows veterans to take part in some, not all, of the new appeals system. Any veteran with a currently pending appeal with VA can opt in to the program, as long as their appeal is not currently before the Board of Veterans’ Appeals. Once a veteran opts in to the program, they are not able to return to the Legacy Appeals system. The Legacy Appeals system refers to the current VA appeals system.
Supplemental Claim Lane Decision
The Supplemental Claim lane allows veterans to submit additional evidence that is “new and relevant” to their claim for benefits. In this lane, VA also has the “duty to assist” veterans in obtaining additional information in support of their claim.
In a Supplemental Claim decision, VA lists what evidence it found to be favorable to the veteran’s claim and what evidence it found to be unfavorable. It also discusses how the evidence was weighed in terms of whether the scales were tipped in favor of the veteran or against the veteran. This analysis is included in the “Reasons for Decision” section of the Supplemental Claim decision.
VA will also include any other favorable finding identified while making the decision, as well as which laws and regulations were considered in making the decision. This insight allows veterans to see how VA made its decision on benefits and make sure all of the correct and relevant regulations were applied.
Higher Level Review Decision
The Higher Level Review lane allows veterans to appeal a denial and have a more senior VA employee review their case. Veterans are not able to submit new evidence in this lane.
Similar to Supplemental Claim decisions, Higher Level Review decisions must list all favorable findings VA identified when reviewing the veteran’s case. Additionally, VA will identify any unfavorable findings identified in the record, such as a negative Compensation and Pension examination. The RAMP decisions will also list all regulations and laws VA applied in their decision.
Also similar to the Supplemental Claim decision, the Higher Level Review decision lists all evidence VA considered in coming to its decision regarding benefits. This aspect of the decision is similar to decisions issued under the Legacy Appeals system.
What’s Included With the Decision?
Besides the decision itself, there are two new forms attached to RAMP decisions.
RAMP Review Rights Form
Each decision comes with a “RAMP Review Rights” form that informs claimants how they can appeal their RAMP decision. A claimant has one year from the date of their RAMP decisions to appeal. The form explains each lane’s appeal option and the type of review that will be conducted.
- Supplemental Claim. In this lane, claimants must submit new and relevant evidence for their claim, after which a different rater will review the case.
- Higher Level Review. In this lane, claimants cannot submit any additional evidence. If a claimant chooses Higher Level Review, their case will be reviewed by a higher-level VA employee who will make a new decision on their claim based on the evidence of record. Veterans should note that VA does not allow claimants to select the Higher Level Review lane when the decision they are appealing was issued from a Higher Level Review or the Board of Veterans’ Appeals.
- Appeal to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals. Veterans can appeal their decision directly to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals to be reviewed by a Veterans Law Judge. However, the Board will not begin deciding RAMP appeals until October 2018. In this lane, veterans have three options for their appeal at the Board:
- Direct Review. This option is for veterans who do not have any additional evidence to submit and do not want a hearing.
- Evidence Submission. This lane is for veterans who do want to submit additional evidence but do not want a hearing. Any evidence must be submitted within 90 days of the date the Board receives the veteran’s request. Any evidence submitted after the 90 days will not be reviewed by the Board.
- Under this option, veterans can testify before a Veterans Law Judge and submit additional evidence. VA warns that this option could cause delays in receiving a decision from the Board and states that the Board will not schedule hearings until October 2018 at the earliest.
The RAMP Review Rights form also includes instructions for how and where a veteran can send their appeal.
RAMP Selection Form
When a veteran has decided which appeal option is best for their case, they can fill out the RAMP Selection form included with RAMP decisions. On the form, veterans must identify which issues they are appealing as well as which appeal lane they are selecting.