The VA has officially started their renovation of the VA appeals process—hooray!
However, it isn’t quite time to celebrate for everyone. The VA’s new RAMP (“Rapid Appeals Modernization Program”) will only be available by invitation until the full program is implemented sometime before February 2019.
Starting this month (November 2017), the VA will be sending out RAMP invitations to eligible veterans with pending VA appeals. The invites won’t go out to everyone, so even if you are “eligible” and have had your appeal pending for a while, it doesn’t mean you’ll get one.
The VA’s goal is to slowly grow this program over the next year or so until it can support the full load of every veteran’s appeal. Thus, they’ll be regularly sending out invites throughout the year, and once their infrastructure is solid enough, they’ll open the RAMP program up for everyone.
So what does this mean for you?
If you have not yet submitted an appeal, then you can submit your appeal using the current VA appeals process. You cannot yet apply directly to the RAMP program as invitations are only going out to veterans who already have their VA appeals pending. Sometime before February 2019, the VA will open up the RAMP program to new appeals as well, but there is no way to know exactly when, so you have to still apply via the current system. Although, once your appeal is in the system and pending, you might get a RAMP invite.
If you have already submitted a VA appeal, then just sit back and wait. You might receive a RAMP invitation sometime this coming year, but there is nothing that you can actively do right now.
If you receive a RAMP invitation, then you have the option to choose whether to participate in the new RAMP process or to leave your appeal in the old process. Either way could be fine, depending on your case, and it is completely up to you.
The goal of RAMP is to make the VA appeals process faster, so it may be in your best interest to switch to RAMP. However, if you’ve been pending for awhile and your case is more complicated, it may be better to stay.
Under RAMP, you have the ability to choose one of three “lanes” to put your appeal in. If you pick the best lane for your type of case, then it will be reviewed much more quickly than the current system. If, however, you pick the wrong lane or it is too complicated for a particular lane, it will then be transferred to the other lane or the BVA’s longer line.
Even under RAMP, more complicated cases must go to the Board of Veterans Appeals (BVA), but the BVA will not be reviewing any RAMP cases until February 2019. Until then, the BVA will simply focus on the pending appeals in the current system.
It’s important that you understand the types of cases that should be put in each lane so that you make the best decision for your VA appeal:
1. Local Higher Level Review. This lane is for cases that don’t have any new evidence and are fairly straightforward. If the VA made an error and the evidence in the claim clearly proves their error, then this is the lane for you. The majority of appeals that don’t have new evidence will be fine in this lane.
2. New Evidence. This lane is for claims that have new evidence that wasn’t submitted with the original claim. If the VA made a decision about your case, but didn’t have all the evidence and you’d like to submit additional evidence, then this is the lane for you. Only submit to this lane if you have new evidence regarding your conditions that the VA has not yet seen.
3. The Board. This lane sends a case directly to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals (BVA). Again, however, the BVA will not be reviewing cases under RAMP until February 2019 as they are already overwhelmed under the current system and need to focus on that.
So until the RAMP program is fully implemented, only the first two lanes will be beneficial. If you decide to participate in the RAMP program under one of the first two lanes, and disagree with their decision, then you can appeal directly to the BVA.
As the BVA will be focusing on the current appeals, it is definitely fine to choose to not participate in the RAMP program. Depending on your case, however, the RAMP program may be a godsend. In reality, the majority of VA appeals are fairly straightforward cases that are simply bogged down in the overload of the current system. This new RAMP system will allow those cases to be separated out and reviewed more quickly.
Ultimately, the VA’s new RAMP program should make the VA appeals process much better in the long run by dividing the labor among three lanes instead of it all landing on the BVA. However, it will take some time to fully implement and be available to everyone. Hopefully during that time, they’ll be able to work out the kinks and have a solid system ready to go by February 2019.