By now you may have heard there is a new law in town: The Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act of 2017, also known as Appeals Modernization Act, also known as AMA.
What you need to know:
- There is a new way to appeal your claim
- Beware of the One Year Deadline
- According to the VA, you will get decisions faster
Let’s start from the beginning and look at how this law is different….
First, you file a claim. Then you get a decision. What do you do if you don’t like that decision or don’t agree with it? This is where we begin
1. There is a new way to appeal your veterans claim
Now when you want to file an appeal, you have three different options and you have to choose one to move forward with your appeal.
Option 1: Supplemental Claim
If after you receive your decision, you find new evidence in support of your claim or realize you didn’t submit important treatment records that would help your claim, this is the option for you.
What you need to know:
- You can submit new evidence to add to your claim.
- The VA has a duty to assist you. So if you tell them and identify any new and relevant evidence to support your claim, such as treatment records, the VA is supposed to help you find and develop that evidence
- There is no hearing here. A reviewer will look at all of the evidence and determine if it changes the decision.
Keep in mind, the evidence you submit must be new and relevant. New evidence is information that the VA did not have before they made the last decision. Relevant evidence is information that could prove or disprove something about your case.
Option 2: Higher-level Review
Your claim is reviewed by what the VA calls a “more senior claims adjudicator”. This person is looking at your decision for the first time, so they are giving no weight to the previous denial of your decision.
What you need to know:
- You cannot submit new evidence at this point
- The VA does not have a duty to assist here, meaning they will not help you gather evidence
- You cannot request a hearing, instead, you can have an informal phone conference with the person making your decision.
Option 3: Appeal to the Board of Veterans Appeals
If you don’t like what the Regional Office has decided and you don’t think you’ll have better luck with someone else at the Regional Office deciding your claim, you have this third option. You can appeal to the higher level above the Regional Office, which is the Board of Veterans Appeals. Here, your claim will be looked at by a Veterans Law Judge. With this option, there are also three different paths you have to choose from to present your case to the BVA.
- Direct Review– This is for when you have no new evidence to submit or gather. If you just want someone new and higher up to look at your case exactly the way it is, this is the option for you. It’s called Direct Review because it just goes straight up from the Regional Office to the BVA exactly as is. This is supposed to be the fastest option.
- Evidence Submission– If you do have new evidence you want to submit after you received a decision from the Regional office, this is the path you want to take. Here, you have an additional 90 days to gather and submit evidence to the BVA.
- Hearing– you have new evidence and you want to testify before a Veterans Law Judge. Be warned, this is the lane that will likely take the most amount of time.
If the Board makes a decision on your case and you still don’t agree with it, you have two options:
- Add new and relevant evidence to your case and go back into the supplemental lane and you start all over again
- Appeal to the US court of appeals for veterans claims within 120 days
2. Beware of the One Year Deadline
You have one year from the date on your decision to take action. By always filing within the one-year deadline, you are keeping your claim alive so that once you get a favorable decision, your effective date will go back to the date of your first claim. If you miss that one-year deadline, you can still file new and relevant evidence and it will be considered a supplemental claim, but the problem is you lose your effective date. So if and when the VA grants your claim, instead of going all the way back to the date you filed the original claim, your effective date will only go back to the date you filed that new supplemental claim because you missed the deadline to file the appeal.
3. According to the VA, you will get decisions faster
The VA has set goals for how long they will take to make decisions. When choosing the Supplemental Claim, the VA’s goal is complete a decision in 125 days, or between four and five months. The same goal is set for when selecting the Higher Level Review. If you choose to appeal to the Board of Veterans Appeals and you select the Direct Review lane, the VA’s goal is to have a decision within one year. The other options are just expected to take longer. Keep in mind, these are only goals the VA has set. This program has been in effect for a short amount of time. Therefore, the actual amount of time that these decisions will take is yet to be seen.