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New Law Streamlines Claims and Appeals

(This article first appeared in the March/April 2019 issue of The American Postal Worker magazine) 

Last month, the Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act of 2017 finally went into effect after having been signed into law on Aug. 23, 2017. It is said to represent one of the most significant statutory changes expected to benefit veterans in decades.

Reform has been a long-time goal of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and its stakeholders; so much so that the VA sponsored an Appeals Summit three years ago, in Mar. 2016. The VA, Congress, veteran service organizations and advocates worked together during the event to design a new appeals system. The law is intended to deliver reform to veterans on the legacy appeals system.

Thanks to the collaborative efforts of many, veterans now have a choice in how unfavorable decisions will be reviewed. Veterans should also realize more timely resolutions of appealed decisions through the new streamlined process.

Starting on Feb. 19, the law’s effective date, veterans appealing claims decisions will have three review options. Under the Higher-Level Review, a more experienced adjudicator will conduct a new review of the previous decision. Veterans who select the Supplemental Claim option may submit new and relevant evidence, and the VA will have to help develop new evidence under its duty to assist. Veterans will also be permitted to appeal decisions to the Board where they can select from one of three dockets: direct review, evidence or hearing.

The VA aims to complete Supplemental Claims and Higher-Level Reviews in an average of 125 days, with decisions appealed to the Board for direct review within a year. Under the legacy process, it took three to seven years to get a decision.

In a meaningful effort to meet its goals and reduce the backlog of legacy appeals, the VA funded 605 additional appeal employees in Fiscal Year 2019 and established two new Decision Review Operations Centers at the St. Petersburg, FL and Seattle, WA regional offices. The former Appeals Resource Center in Washington, D.C. was converted to a third Decision Review Operations Center.

In response to the full implementation of the Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act of 2017, the VA has discontinued its Rapid Appeals Modernization Program (RAMP). RAMP provided eligible veterans early resolutions to their appealed claims. The VA stopped accepting RAMP elections on Feb. 16, 2019. Veterans with a legacy appeal dated after Feb. 15 will be able to opt into the new process once they receive a Statement of the Case or a Supplemental Statement of the Case. However, RAMP claims pending on or after Feb. 15 will continue to be processed until the inventory is complete. For more information visit http://www.va.gov/decision-reviews.

Let the Games Begin

The VA’s 2019 National Veterans Golden Age Games will be hosted in Anchorage, AK from June 5-10. The annual competition is one of the most progressive and adaptive rehabilitative senior sports programs in the world. Hundreds of veterans from across the country are expected to participate.

Competitive events will include air pistol, air rifle, badminton, basketball, blind disc golf, boccia, bowling, cycling, golf, horseshoes, nine-ball, pickleball, powerwalking, shuffleboard, swimming, table tennis, and track and field.

Registration is also open until Apr. 15 for the 2019 National Veterans Wheelchair Games. The event will take place at the Robley Rex VA Medical Center in Louisville, KY from July 11-16. The event is a sports and rehabilitationcompetition that engages veterans who use wheelchairs due to spinal cord injuries, amputations or other neurological conditions. To learn more or to register visit www.wheelchairgames.org.

– Human Relations Department