On August 23, President Trump signed into law the Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act of 2017. The Act is meant to speed up the appeals process for VA disability compensation claims. Once enacted, the new law should simplify the current appeals process by allowing veterans to choose one of three paths to appeal their claims. Under the new system, veterans can:
- request a higher-level VA adjudicator to decide their case (without new evidence);
- appeal, with new evidence or information, to the same adjudicator who denied their claim; or,
- send their appeal directly to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals (BVA).
What you need to know
Q: When will the new appeals process take effect?
The earliest the appeals reform bill will become effective is February 14, 2019 which is 540 days from the signing of the bill. The bill was signed on August 23, 2017 so there will be no change to the appeals process until February 14, 2019 or later.
Q: Should I wait to submit my claim until the new system takes effect?
No. The sooner you file your initial claim, the better. If your claim is granted, VA will pay retroactive benefits (i.e. back pay) starting from the date you filed your claim. Waiting to submit your claim could cause you to receive less compensation than you would had you submitted your claim immediately.
Q: Should I wait to file an appeal until the new system takes effect?
No. You only have one year from the date of your Rating Decision (VA’s decision on your initial claim) to file an appeal.
Q: Can I opt in to the new system once it’s enacted?
Veterans with pending claims will be able to opt in to the new appeals process if they receive notice of a decision on an initial claim on or after the date the Act is enacted (likely February 14, 2019). You can also opt in after receiving a Statement of the Case or Supplemental Statement of the Case on or after the date the Act is enacted.
How will the new appeals process work?
The proposed appeals process should streamline the parts of the review process that tend to increase wait times. In particular, the reforms target the processes surrounding new evidence and hearings. Currently, veterans can submit new evidence at any point during their appeal, which causes an additional round of reviews and drives up wait times. And veterans can wait years just to get a hearing scheduled.
Note: The bill changes the language of new and “material” evidence to new and “relevant” evidence, but the meaning remains the same.
Click on the infographic below to see 1) what the current appeals backlog looks like, and 2) how the new appeals process will function. Or read the bill itself here.
Other Noteworthy Changes
Duty to Assist
The VA’s Duty to Assist veterans (for example, their obligation to help veterans get their medical records, service records and private records) during the claims process will only apply to original claims and supplemental claims (as defined above). The duty to assist law would no longer apply to the Board or to claims filed on the Higher Level Adjudication track.
Favorable findings made by an adjudicator during the claims process would be binding on all subsequent adjudicators (within the VA system), in the absence of clear and convincing evidence to the contrary.