A note about this article
Here is an updated video from Spring 2020 that talks about the current developments of the VA Appeals Modernization Act.
Here’s why we are recommending our clients not join the Rapid Appeals Modernization Program (RAMP) just yet.
1. You don’t want to be the VA’s guinea pig. The Rapid Appeals Modernization Program is brand new and no one really understands how it works yet. The VA is going to be working out the kinks of the Rapid Appeals Modernization Program with the first veterans that join it. Only 20 out of the first 5,000 veterans invited joined this program. Many veterans have a deep distrust of the VA – rightfully so!
2. This program may not be faster. The invitation letter to the Rapid Appeals Modernization Program says this track “may lead” or could “potentially” be faster. Even the people that designed the Rapid Appeals Modernization Program can’t promise it’s actually going to be faster. The VA did not provide timelines that actually prove the Rapid Appeals Modernization Program is going to be faster. No one really knows if the Rapid Appeals Modernization Program is even going to produce quicker decisions.
3. You could lose your place in line at the BVA. If you currently have a docketed claim at the BVA, we highly suggest you keep your place in line. If you join the Rapid Appeals Modernization Program you could lose your current place in line at the BVA. If your claim is denied in the first phase of the Rapid Appeals Modernization Program, the BVA will not even begin to look at your claim until February 2019 at the earliest. There could be a chance your claim gets pushed back even farther than February 2019. The VA is not guaranteeing that denials will even be heard starting in February 2019 – that is an estimate.
4. This program will not allow you to submit new evidence. One of the reasons Woods & Woods has been so successful at winning appeals is because we can submit new evidence after a denial. A very large number of veterans are denied because of insufficient evidence. One track of the Rapid Appeals Modernization Program will not allow you to submit new evidence. That means under the Rapid Appeals Modernization Program, the VA will re-review the evidence that already got you denied. Remember, evidence is the key to winning your claim.
5. You don’t want a VA bureaucrat deciding your claim. We can’t seem to get a straight answer from the VA, other law firms, or veterans advocates on who will be deciding claims in the Rapid Appeals Modernization Program. That most likely means your VA disability benefits claim will be decided by a bureaucrat in the Rapid Appeals Modernization Program. When you go through the traditional BVA process, your claim will be decided by an independent Veterans Law Judge. We trust judges way more than VA bureaucrats. Judges are independent of the VA system and we feel they have a better grasp of VA law too.
6. The VA has done a bad job at communicating how this program works. Have you noticed how many times we have used “may” and “could” in this article? Our lawyers have been studying this program, reaching out to other law firms, and using our contacts at the VA to understand this program. No one has definite answers for us. That is really scary when you are walking blindly into new legal territory. Remember, you do not want to be the VA’s guinea pig.
A NOTE ABOUT THIS ARTICLE
What is the Rapid Appeals Modernization Program (RAMP)?
RAMP was created in response to unfair wait times in the veterans disability benefits appeals process. RAMP will have different lanes for different claims.
The three options are:
- Higher-Level Review: This lane is the most frightening lane to our VA disability lawyers. Once you are in this lane, you cannot submit new evidence. That means you cannot obtain new doctors reports, lay statements, reports from psychologists, reports from vocational experts, or any another other new evidence. You will be tying your hands and will not be able to develop your claim any further.
- Supplemental Claim Lane: This review will be done by the same people that either denied your claim or rated you too low. You can submit evidence, but the claim will be decided by the people who didn’t believe your claim in the first place. You won’t get an impartial judge like you will with the Board of Veterans Appeals. If you trust VA bureaucrats, then by all means, opt-in to this lane.
- Appeal Lane for Appeals to the Board: This lane will exist, but we don’t know enough about it yet to tell you any information. There may be a couple of different options here, but no one really understands the process yet.
Our VA disability compensation lawyers are taking a wait-and-see approach for our clients. We really don’t know what to tell clients to expect from RAMP. We are suggesting our clients do not opt-into RAMP before we know exactly how it is going to affect claims.
FAQ: Rapid Appeals Modernization Program (RAMP)
Can anyone opt into RAMP? Not at this time. The VA is only inviting certain veterans to join this program. According to the VA, they are going to keep inviting more veterans monthly.
I received the RAMP letter, what now? Once you receive the letter, you have the option to join the Rapid Appeals Modernization Program. If you wish to join the Rapid Appeals Modernization Program, you need to send back the form completed within the time frame listed on your letter. If you do not wish to join the Rapid Appeals Modernization Program, you can just not reply and you won’t be enrolled.
Once I join, can I opt out of RAMP? It appears you may not leave the Rapid Appeals Modernization Program once you have joined. Remember, Rapid Appeals Modernization Program is so new and the VA has been so terrible at disseminating information, know one really knows yet.
Why did the VA create RAMP? The Rapid Appeals Modernization Program was created in response to the current veterans disability benefits timeline. Veterans are regularly waiting 4-5 years to receive benefits through the current VA disability benefits appeal process. The problem is this: there is no guarantee that the Rapid Appeals Modernization Program will actually be faster.
What happens if I have multiple appeals pending? You could potentially have one appeal go into RAMP and your other appeals continue in the BVA process. In other words, your claims may be going through different systems, with different rules, and different guidelines.
We will follow the Rapid Appeals Modernization Program.
Our veterans disability lawyers are going to closely follow all the developments with the Rapid Appeals Modernization Program. We are attending video conferences, having brainstorming sessions with partner law firms, and gathering information on how the Rapid Appeals Modernization Program will affect claims. We hope the Rapid Appeals Modernization Program works and that we can eventually recommend our clients opt-in.
Years ago the VA set out to reform the VA benefits application process. The VA sped up the application process, but errors and denials increased. At the same time, the backlog of cases grew at the Board of Veterans Appeals (BVA). The VA essentially just pushed the backlog from the application phase to the BVA phase. The VA was just shuffling deckchairs on the Titanic. There are currently more than 470,000 appeals waiting for decisions.
We kind of expect the same “reform” to come from the Rapid Appeals Modernization Program. The VA has a long history of implementing “reforms” that don’t speed the VA disability benefits process. We hope that the Rapid Appeals Modernization Program ends up being successful and that we can recommend our clients opt-in. But first we want to watch the Rapid Appeals Modernization Program in action before taking clients down a track that no one really understands yet.
Need help with your VA disability appeal?
Woods & Woods veterans disability benefits lawyers have successfully filed thousands of appeals. Our VA benefits appeal lawyers are experienced and we only charge a fee if your appeal is successful. Since 1985, our law firm has aggressively fought for injured and disabled people.
Need help with your application? No problem. Woods & Woods never charges for help with your VA disability benefits application. We have helped over 20,000 veterans file their applications for free.
If you have questions about your appeal, give us a call. We offer free appeal evaluations to any veteran or family member that needs help. There’s no cost to discuss your claim and talk about what legal options are available to you at this time.