In 2017, Congress passed the Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act (AMA) with the goal of reducing wait times for appeals of VA decisions. The AMA system introduced new appeal options. Unfortunately, the AMA system also introduced a lot of confusion about which appeal options are appropriate and complex rules about what evidence can be submitted or considered in appeals.
By default, any claim that the VA initially decided before February 19, 2019, remains in the legacy appeals system. Any claim initially decided on or after February 19, 2019, automatically is within the AMA system. If your claim falls into the legacy system, you have the choice to opt into the AMA system instead.
The VA Disability attorneys at Berry Law Firm can help you determine what system your claim falls into and have a deep understanding of the complex procedures required to appeal a VA decision. Contact us for help with your appeal.
In order to appeal the VA’s initial decision in the legacy system, a veteran must file a Notice of Disagreement (NOD) with the VA Regional Office within one year after the date of the notice letter for the decision. The NOD must be submitted on VA Form 21-0958 and should include specific information about why the VA made a mistake when it denied the veteran’s claim or gave an inadequate disability rating.
After the veteran submits the NOD, the VA Regional Office will send a Statement of the Case (SOC). The SOC explains the evidence, laws, and regulations that the VA relied on to deny the veterans claim.
Sometimes, based on new arguments or evidence included with the veterans NOD, the VA Regional Office will issue a new rating decision granting all or part of the veterans claim. If some parts of the veterans claims still remain denied, the VA Regional Office will issue an SOC to explain the denial. In addition, if the veteran submits new evidence before the case is transferred to the BVA, then the VA Regional Office has a duty to reconsider the claim based on that evidence and will issue a new rating decision if the claim is granted, or will issue a supplemental statement of the case (SSOC) if it remains denied.
The office will include VA Form 9, called a Substantive Appeal, with the SOC. In order to continue the appeal, a veteran must fill out this form and send it back to the Regional Office within 60 days after it sends the SOC or SSOC. If the veteran does not submit a completed VA Form 9 in time, then the BVA will not take the appeal.
After submitting the VA Form 9 appealing the review officer’s SOC or SSOC, the VA will send a letter stating that the BVA has received your case. From the date of this letter, you have 90 days to submit any additional evidence for the BVA to consider in reviewing your appeal. You can also waive your opportunity to submit new evidence if you would like the BVA to consider your appeal sooner.
A veteran can request a hearing before the BVA either by checking a box on the NOD or VA Form 9, or in any communication to the VA. However, a hearing request can delay adjudication of the veteran’s claim. In your case, a Berry Law Firm attorney can advise you on whether you should ask for a hearing.
Once the BVA has reviewed an appeal, it can either deny claims, grant claims, or remand claims (meaning it sends the claim back to the VA Regional Office to continue to develop the claim and decide the claim again). After a remanded case returns to the VA Regional Office and the VA completes the further development in a remanded claim, it will either issue a new rating decision granting the claim, issue an SSOC continuing to deny the claim, or some combination of both. In the legacy appeals system, after the VA Regional Office issues an SSOC continuing to deny all or part of a remanded case, the case will return to the BVA for it to review whether the VA Regional Office corrected the previous mistakes.
If the BVA grants an appealed claim for service connection, the case will return to the VA Regional Office to assign a disability rating to the service-connected disability. The rating decision assigning a disability percentage will not automatically return to the BVA; if a veteran disagrees with the rating assigned, they must start the appeals process again.
If a veteran disagrees with the BVA’s decision, the veteran can appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims (CAVC). Many of the experienced VA Disability attorneys at Berry Law are admitted to represent clients at the CAVC. Contact us for help with a CAVC appeal.
There are benefits and disadvantages to both systems.
The AMA system has the advantage of generally shorter decision times, especially with the Higher-Level Review and Supplemental Claim lanes. The AMA system also benefits veterans because any favorable findings made in an AMA decision are binding on the VA, so veterans don’t have to continue proving a fact that the VA has already conceded.
However, the AMA system is also complicated and difficult to navigate—and even within the VA there is some uncertainty about how parts of the AMA apply. The legacy appeals system has the advantage of a more linear, straightforward process and fewer restrictions on whether and when the veteran may or must submit new evidence.
Ultimately, the decision whether to opt into the AMA or remain in the legacy system is a complicated one. Berry Law’s VA Disability attorneys have a thorough understanding of the complex procedures for appealing under either system, and can help you decide which option is best.
In claims where VA made an initial decision between November 1, 2017, and February 18, 2019, veterans had an option to participate in a pilot program for the AMA known as the Rapid Appeals Modernization Program (RAMP).
Since February 19, 2019, when the AMA went into full effect, whenever a VA Regional Office issues an SOC or SSOC in a case in the legacy system, the VA will also send a letter explaining the veteran’s ability to opt into the AMA system. Veterans may opt-in by submitting one of the AMA appeal or review forms (Higher-Level Review Request, Supplemental Claim, or Form 10182 Appeal to the Board) within 60 days after the SOC or SSOC and checking the box on the form indicating that the veteran is opting out of the legacy appeals system.
To remain in the legacy appeals system, simply use the legacy appeals forms (an NOD and then a VA Form 9) to file an appeal to the BVA.
Once a case is in the AMA system, there is no way to go back to the legacy appeals system.
The veteran disability claims attorneys of Berry Law Firm can ensure your appeal persuasively states your case and provides the BVA with the evidence it needs to render a decision on your claim. We will show the BVA where the VA Regional Office got the facts wrong or misapplied the law and explain why you deserve benefits.
Berry Law Firm also maintains a thorough catalog of research, case law, and medical studies that can help establish a link between an event and your impairment or a link between related medical conditions.
We know what it takes to prove that a veteran suffers from a current illness or injury that is connected to his or her service. We also know what goes into establishing a veteran’s proper disability rating.
The VA has accredited Berry Law Firm attorneys to represent veterans in disability benefits claims. We have obtained millions of dollars in disability benefits for thousands of U.S. military veterans. We work with veterans across the country. Contact us today to discuss your case.
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