On August 23, 2017, President Trump signed a bill to overhaul the VA appeals process. This bill is known as the Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act. The obvious questions for the new VA appeal process are:
- What does this bill do?
- When does it go into effect?
- How is it going to affect the appeal process?
What is the new process?
The first answer is simple. The bill is meant to speed up the appeals process.
The current appeals process takes years for veterans to get their much deserved, and oftentimes needed, benefits. Currently, the VA offers two appeal processes. When a veteran receives a decision that they disagree with, the veteran can:
- Appeal, with new information, to the same adjudicator (reconsideration), or
- Request a higher-level adjudicator (Decision Review Officer or DRO).
Both choices require filing a Notice of Disagreement (NOD). Another Rating Decision will be issued (positive result) or a Statement of the Case (continued denial) will be issued after the veteran decides which appeal process to use. The Statement of the Case identifies all the laws and regulations used in make the decision. Its purpose is helping a veteran perfect their appeal. The veteran must file a VA Form 9, called a substantive appeal, to the Board of Veterans Appeals to continue their appeal.
The new law adds another option to the appeal process. A claimant may file a “fully developed appeal” under the new law. A claimant files a fully developed claim with the VA by submitting the following:
- Their notice of disagreement, with written election to have the appeal determined under the program,
- All evidence that the claimant believes is needed for the appeal as of the date of the filing, and
- A statement of the argument in support of the claim, if any.
the “fully developed appeal” however has strict restrictions. When a fully developed appeal is filed, a claimant may not submit or identify any new evidence relating to the claim. If the claimant files new evidence the claim reverts to the standard appeals process. The submission of new evidence is deemed to be an election to use the standard process.
To clarify, this does not mean that there will be no additional development once at the Board. The Board is not prohibited from acquiring or requesting additional evidence when a claimant chooses this path for their appeal. The new law does, however, prohibit the Board from returning the case to the regional office for this development.
When does the new process begin?
The VA officials have stated it will take approximately 18 months to implement the new system. This means that the new law is unlikely to go into effect until spring of 2019. The delay is due to a number of reasons including: the need to move staff, hire additional workers, acquire new space, and provide training for the new system.
How will it affect the appeals process?
The new system will cut down on the backlog of cases that the VA is currently experiencing. The overall appeal process should be sped up by allowing cases to move up the appeal process faster and limiting the submission of additional evidence to the initial appeal. The process aims to eliminate the “hamster wheel” that currently plagues the VA appeal process.
Article by: Nicholas Simpson