The VA Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act was recently signed into law by President Trump. The claimed goal of this law is to speed up the appeal process by creating three options to appeal VA disability claim decisions. Veterans can request that a higher VA adjudicator decide the case (same as before), they can appeal with new information to the same VA adjudicator who decided their claim, they can file a supplemental claim with the VA Regional Office with the opportunity to submit new evidence (new), or they can appeal directly to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals (new).
This new law is noteworthy in that it fails to address the current backlog of appeals but is focused primarily on addressing future appeals. It also fails to explain how the new process will actually speed up the appeals.
The only one of the new appeal options that has any possibility of speeding up appeals is the third option, appealing directly to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals. This will allow veterans to skip the current appeal where the VA reviews an appeal and issues a second decision before being able to appeal to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals (BVA). Having the ability to skip this second VA review is a good start. However, this will mean that a tidal wave of appeals will instead be headed to the BVA. The BVA’s current staff is not adequate to handle the caseload it has much less take on this coming tidal wave of cases. In fact, it currently has difficulty filling the staff positions that it has open. Even if funding were available to hire new staff, it will take them years to find and train these people to do the jobs satisfactorily. In the end, it simply appears that this new law is another case of VA smoke and mirrors by creating something that looks like it will help on it’s face but ultimately just shifts the appeals around.
VA Secretary David Shulkin has stated that details of the new program will be announced next month. VA officials have stated that it will take them 18 months to establish the new system.