President Donald Trump signed the Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act of 2017 into law on August 23, 2017, in an effort to speed up the process for Veterans Affairs (VA) disability compensation claims. In addition to modernizing the claims and appeals process, the United States Department of Veterans Affairs claims that the new law will improve the notification process of VA decisions, will resolve claims faster, and get veterans the coverage they need sooner.
The Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act
The effective date of the bill is the later of either 540 days after the date of enactment or 30 days after positive certification from the Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs. Robert Wilkie was confirmed by the United States Senate on July 23, 2018, and sworn in as Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs on July 30, 2018.
Veterans disability claims can quickly become incredibly confusing and frustrating for many applicants, and veterans are prohibited from hiring attorneys until the appellate stage. Critics argue that the Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act could limit a lawyer’s ability to obtain documents and other evidence necessary for an appeal.
Berry Law Firm helps veterans appeal a wide variety of physical and mental disability claims. Firm founder John S. Berry Sr. served three tours and earned the Bronze Star in Vietnam, while John S. Berry Jr. was deployed as a platoon leader to Bosnia for Operation Joint Forge and also served as a Company Commander during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Call us or contact us online now to discuss your appeal with our lawyers.
New Changes to the VA Appeals Process
Under the Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act, a veteran will have three review options:
- Higher Level Review — A veteran has one year to have a senior claims adjudicator at the VA regional office review their claim. The review is “de novo,” which is Latin for “from the beginning,” meaning that a prior decision holds no weight and new evidence will not be considered. Rather, a decision will be overturned only based on a dissenting opinion or a clear error or oversight. The original claim date is preserved if the decision is favorable, but an unfavorable decision will mean a veteran either has to file a supplemental claim or a Notice of Disagreement (NOD) to appeal.
- Supplemental Claim — With this option, veterans are able to present new evidence for consideration. The VA will review the evidence and issue a decision within 125 days. After a decision is reached, a veteran can use any of the three options listed here if unsatisfied with the decision.
- Appeals to the Board — A veteran files an NOD and their case moves directly to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals. The veteran can choose a direct review when there isn’t any new evidence to present and they don’t want to schedule a hearing. They can also select a review if they have new evidence to show but don’t want a hearing. A hearing can also be set if there is new evidence and the veteran would like to testify before a Veterans Law Judge. Like the higher level, the original claim date is preserved if the decision is favorable. In the event of an unfavorable decision, the veteran has one year to file a supplemental claim and only 120 days to file an appeal to the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims.
These new options are designed to provide veterans with additional recourse, since the current system largely limits veterans to filing NODs when they are dissatisfied with a decision and want to preserve their filing dates.
VA Appeal Changes: Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act
Some veterans have expressed concern about the limitations that the Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act places on the agency’s duty to assist veterans. Under the Act, the VA’s duty to assist no longer exists after an appeal has been filed.
Much of the effect of the new law remains to be seen. The Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs will submit periodic reports to Congress about the program that should shed light on how many appeals remain pending and the general success (or lack thereof) of the Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act.
If you are a military veteran in need of assistance with a VA disability claim, it is in your best interest to contact Berry Law Firm. You can have our VA attorneys review your case and help you understand all of your legal options when you call us or contact us online today.