How the New VA Appeals Process is Addressing “Hurry Up and Wait”
Every service member knows the famous motto, “Hurry up and wait.” Unfortunately, this motto has taken hold in the VA system so much so that many veterans think the VA is waiting for them to die just to get out of deciding their claim. Wait times for initial decisions have often taken over a year, and if you need to appeal the decision, it can be multiple years before you begin receiving monetary benefits. But…..the Appeals Modernization Act (AMA), which was signed into law on August 23, 2017, promised reduced wait times and faster decision. Has it happened? Let’s take a look at some of the changes and what the current wait times are with the new VA appeals process.
What is the Difference Between AMA and Legacy?
The Appeals Modernization Act (AMA) was officially implemented on February 19, 2019. Every new new decision decided after that date is under the new program, referred to as AMA. Open claims decided before that date are now referred to as “Legacy” claims.
Where Does My New VA Appeals Claim Go?
Originally, when a claim was filed it went to the RO servicing the area the veteran lived. Under AMA, only two ROs,, St. Petersburg or Seattle, will handle all initial claims. The other 57 ROs are handling all appeals and Legacy cases. Yes, 2 offices are handling all claims and 57 ROs will be handling appeals.
I Filed My Claim, Now How Long Will It Take?
The good news is that things are speeding up. For initial claims, the wait time has been cut by 60%. However, it does not look like Board appeals are speeding up much faster than the rates from the year before. In fact, filing a Notice of Disagreement (NOD) is actually incurring a longer wait time than before AMA.
|Number of days pending||2017||2018||2019|
|Initial Claim Decision||225||116||91|
|NOD Appeal to BVA||429.0||412.0||427.3|
|VAF 9 decision||457.2||358.8||289.5|
|Remands to RO||499.4||449.9||374.5|
Should I Appeal to the BVA?
Not if you can help it! Under Legacy, if you got an unfavorable decision at the RO, you could appeal that decision once, then you had to appeal to the board. Now, with the new system, you can continue to keep your claim at the RO as long as you continue to submit new and relevant evidence.
Once you get a decision on your initial claim, either a grant of the conditions with a rating percentage and the benefits you will receive, a denial of your claim, or an incorrect effective date; you may want to appeal. If you appeal, you will still start to collect the current benefits awarded.
At this point, you have three options to appeal your claim: Supplemental Claim or Higher Level Review from the RO or you can file an NOD to the Board. There is now a one year limit to file any type of appeal. Board level appeals currently have an average waiting time of almost 430 days, over a year and a half.
Now, of the three options; you have to make sure you meet the requirements of each:
|Type of Appeal||Is Evidence Required?|
|Supplemental Claim||Yes, must be submitted with Appeal|
|Higher Level Review||No – will not look at any new evidence|
|Board Appeal/NOD||Yes/No: you can submit new evidence within 90 days of Appeal but not required|
Why Stay At the Regional Office Level?
With the Supplemental Claim, you can keep appealing as long as you submit new and relevant evidence within one year of the last decision to keep your original effective date. You can reopen a claim with a Supplemental Claim after the one-year deadline with new and relevant evidence and the new effective date.
Benefits of the New VA Appeals AMA System:
If you received a favorable finding, no one can reverse that finding. You will get a decision that should tell you exactly what was missing to grant your claim. For example, if you claim service connection and had an injury in service but no current diagnosis, the decision must state that you are missing a current diagnosis.
Is AMA Good for Veterans?
Yes and No. There are many aspects that are more favorable towards the veteran such as:
- the initial wait times are shorter,
- the decisions have to show what the veteran needs to get a favorable outcome, and
- everything is electronic so records and paperwork are expected to move much faster.
However, there are also drawbacks as well:
- it is not very user-friendly towards veterans
- even the VA is not very clear concerning the expectations and rules they have designed
- there are a lot of issues that the VA is not sure how to handle yet.
Unfortunately, this new VA appeals process can become a long circle of decisions and appeals until you receive the benefits for which you are entitled. These long wait times can become extremely frustrating and may even deter you from filing a claim, or appealing the decision, but in the end, the outcome can be worth the wait. The effective date for which you will start receiving benefits for your granted disabilities will go back to the date of the original claim. For example, if you filed your original claim in 1998 and after the entire appeals process you received your rightful decision in 2004, you would receive six years of back pay, plus recurring monthly benefits!
Is There Any Way to Expedite My Claim?
Sure, there are a few ways to help speed up the process and move your claim at a faster pace even with the new VA appeals process. Show the VA proof of age (over 85 yrs old), a terminal illness, or financial problems such as foreclosure or evictions that can lead to homelessness. These are the only ways so expedite a claim.
We will keep you informed of the new developments and statistics surrounding AMA and how to make it work for Veterans in the best way possible.