The Trail We Blaze
Beginning February 19th, 2019, all new veteran claims filed will follow the Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act of 2017 or AMA for short which is the new VA appeals system. Older claims will stay in the “Legacy” system unless the veteran specifically changes appeals paths into the newer system. This Blog will attempt to illustrate the three new paths for the claims to take once the initial rating decision is given. The three paths are the Higher Level Review, the Supplemental Lane, and the Notice of Disagreement (NOD) Direct to the Board. For ease of understanding, there may be times where comparing AMA and Legacy systems will be necessary. Just as a reminder, AMA is the new system and Legacy is the older system. An important thing to remember is, just like the Legacy system, once the initial rating decision is given you will have one year to appeal the decision so take a moment and weight the best option for your claim.
Higher-Level Review in the New Va Appeals System
The first path you may want to consider is the Higher Level Review. This is similar to the old legacy path of wanting the regional office to look at your claim again with the same evidence. One of the more noticeable changes with the new VA appeals system is the change of forms. Before, the veteran had to declare a NOD by sending a letter, stating your disagreement on a VA4138 or by calling the VA and telling them over the phone. Now, the VA requires a new VA Form the VA Form 20-0996 Decision Review Request: Higher-Level Review to be filed for the claim to be placed into this path. The primary reason you would choose this path is if you feel like there is enough evidence already submitted and the initial decision was a mistake that a highly trained person should be able to see. If this path is chosen and the desired decision is not reached, the options are to try one of the other two paths.
The second path you may want to consider is the Supplemental Lane. This path is similar to the Legacy DRO path, in that you may submit new and relevant evidence. This includes medical records, buddy statements and other relevant evidence you, or your representative, can gather to strengthen your case. As with the Higher Level Review path, this path has a new VA Form as well, it is VA Form 20-0995 Decision Review Request: Supplemental Claim.
Notice of Disagreement in the New VA Appeals System
The third path to be considered is the Notice of Disagreement (NOD) Direct to the Board. This is the path directly to the Board of Veteran Appeals (BVA) in the new VA appeals system, unlike the Legacy system that required the Regional Office (RO) to have several decisions before looking at the claim; the AMA system gives the veteran the option to seek a decision from the BVA after the first decision. This path itself has three branches (dockets) to choose from the Direct path, the Evidence path, and the Hearing path. The Direct path is for a case that you feel a mistake was made and the BVA would notice the mistake without any new evidence, similar to the High-Level Review path but at the Board level instead of the RO level. The Evidence path is designed for compiling new evidence within 90 days of filing for this path. The third BVA path is the Hearing path and it is designed for veterans to state their case before a judge via video-conference or physically in Washington D.C. and then be able to submit new evidence up to 90 days after their hearing. Remember with the Hearing path you can compile evidence before the hearing date, you just have to keep in mind that it must all be submitted within the 90-day window after the hearing. As with the other two paths this path has its own VA form, VA Form 10182, Decision Review Request: Board Appeal (Notice of Disagreement).
What if I Need Help?
To bring this overview together, the new VA appeals system, Modernization Act, has changed the way new veteran benefits claims will be handled. After your initial decision, you will have several paths to decide from rather than just a general Notice of Disagreement. The three major paths are the Higher Level Review, the Supplemental Lane, and the Notice of Disagreement (NOD) Direct to the Board with the Board path being broken down into three different paths; Direct, Evidence, and Hearing. These new pathways may look intimidating but as this is an uncharted path veteran groups such as the American Legion and veteran law firms like Hill & Ponton will assist veterans in discovering how the new paths will be handled. Remember there are many resources for veterans to use in assisting with filing and pursuing a claim.