On November 2, 2017, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) implemented the Rapid Appeals Modernization Program (RAMP). RAMP is the first step in the implementation of the appeal reform outlined in the Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act of 2017.
The recently enacted law does not take full effect until February 2019 and only applies to new appeals. However, in an effort to implement a similar process to existing appeals and make more immediate changes, the VA created RAMP. This program will give veterans the opportunity to use some parts of the new system.
THE RAMP PROCESS
In the coming weeks veterans with appeals currently pending will start receiving letters from the VA asking if they are interested in participating in RAMP. If a veteran chooses to participate in RAMP they will not be able to return to the old process.
The program allows participants to have their decisions reviewed in the Higher-Level or Supplemental Claim review lanes briefly outlined below.
Higher-Level Review Lane
The Higher-Level review lane allows a senior VA employee to review a prior decision. The reviewer has the authority to overturn the previous decision and grant benefits or let the earlier decision stand. The biggest negative to this option is that veterans cannot submit new evidence to be reviewed.
Supplemental Claim Lane
The Supplemental Claim Lane is essentially filing a new claim but, unlike the Higher-Lever Review Lane, it does allow veterans to submit new evidence in support of their claim. This is the only lane in which the VA has a duty to assist veterans in finding or obtaining evidence.
SHOULD VETERANS PARTICIPATE IN RAMP?
According to the VA, regardless of the RAMP option chosen, the VA’s “goal” is to issue a decision in “an average of 125 days”. Note that the VA as usual does not give a time limit for them to make a decision. Instead, they loosely say The VA’s “goal” is an “average”. Also, the VA has thrown out that number in the past on various changes and the number never turns out to be correct. As a result, veterans should be skeptical of the VA’s claims regarding times.
Additionally, veterans participating in the program will be limited in their appeal options if they are denied at either one of the new levels. Veterans will not be able to appeal to the Board until at least February 2019 and they will not be able to take their claim directly to the Board of Veterans Appeals.
Veterans will also not be allowed back into the old process at any point in the future.
In addition to the above problems, we are concerned that in either RAMP option (Higher-Level or Supplemental Claim review lanes) it’s the same people looking at the same issue so the resulting decision is most likely going to be the same. By taking the time to go down these roads, the appeal process may end up taking longer. Given the all risks and that minimal chance of reward we cannot recommend participation in RAMP.
If you have additional questions about how RAMP may affect your pending VA appeal, call our lawyers for veterans at (800) 953-6224 or complete our free online veterans disability case evaluation form