Legal Meets Practical: Accessible Solutions

The VA’s RAMP: Is It Real Assistance?

On August 23, 2017, President Trump signed into law the Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act of 2017 (Appeals Modernization Act), which boasted of creating a new claims and appeals process for those pursuing VA benefits; specifically, those who have been chasing their benefits for a long, long time.

A long time.

As implemented beginning in November of 2017, the Appeals Modernization Act plucked older applications from the purgatory of the queue and provided those veterans with a choice between one of two lanes: the Supplemental Claim Lane or the Higher Level Review Lane. By taking a “lane,” these claims are supposed to be resolved sooner than they would be if continuing to languish in the standard appeals process. This is called RAMP, or the Rapid Appeals Modernization  Program. (That’s right. The VA is referring to one of its own processes as rapid. The VA).

While RAMP sounds good in theory, one of the most curious aspects is the lack of information about it. I first looked into RAMP when a veteran mentioned it to me, and the only information I found was months-old Internet pages, most of them from the VA itself and providing general information about RAMP and its background, rather than the dynamics of its operation.

After a considerable amount of digging, here’s the skinny on RAMP:

As mentioned, RAMP is invite-only, and extended only to those veterans who have the oldest claims out there, though the VA plans to have all claims processed under RAMP by February 2019 (though there is no elaboration as to what that means). There are two lanes: the Supplemental Claim Lane and the Higher-Review Claim Lane. When you’re invited, you pick one or the other.

The Supplemental Claim Lane is for those who have additional evidence to submit relating to a claim. The VA will assist the veteran in gathering the evidence and then decide the claim within a goal of 125 days. You can continue to submit supplemental claims with new or material evidence or elect for the other lane (the Higher-Level Review Lane) by making an election for further review within one year after a decision.

The Higher Level Review Lane is for those veterans who have no additional evidence to submit and believe there was an error in the initial decision. Also operating under a goal of a 125-day turnaround period, this higher-level review consists of an entirely new review by an experienced claim adjudicator.

While the idea of expedited review sounds good, many aspects of RAMP are confusing. For example, in the Supplemental Claim Lane, if the VA is required to help the veteran obtain more evidence, does this stop the clock on the 125-day period? Surely it does. And with the Higher Level Review Lane, the review by an “experienced claim adjudicator” sounds very similar to the election to have a Decision Review Officer look at your claim after receiving a denial. Is the only difference that you’re in a different queue than those in the standard appeals queue? And how much does that help you, considering that RAMP is invite-only? If you’re getting an invite to participate in RAMP, doesn’t that mean you’re up for a decision soon anyway?

Then there’s the issue with appeal rights. The letters sent to veterans don’t really discuss how appeals to the Board of Veterans Appeals (BVA) work, other than to note that a veteran participating under RAMP cannot appeal to the BVA until February of 2019. They also don’t discuss how appeals in RAMP might be resolved at the Regional Office level such as by submitting additional information after a decision and waiting for either a new Statement of the Case or decision, which is how it currently works (though it takes years for that process to go through).

As of February 2018, only 450 veterans who have been invited to participate in RAMP have done so. That represents a three percent opt-in of the 15,000 veterans who have been invited to participate.

If you get a RAMP invite, before you elect to get out of traffic to the safety of the VA’s new “HOV lane,” please do your research. Disability compensation is an entitlement, and there’s no need to make getting what you deserve harder than it already is.

Did you find this article informative? If so, sign up for Sarah Schauerte’s weekly legal blog on veterans issues at: http://www.legalmeetspractical.com.

VA Disclaimer: Process May Be Slower Than Object Appears.

4 Responses to “The VA’s RAMP: Is It Real Assistance?”

  1. I got my RAMP invitation on the SAME day I finally got notice in eBenefits that my 2008 claim had made it to a VLJ for the BVA. Uh, not now.

    • The VA is all about timing, aren’t they? (If you were to a VLJ already, I’m surprised they pulled you for RAMP. But that’s assuming the process works logically).

  2. I was invited to participate in RAMP. Received a letter from my VSO advising against opting in to the program:
    – RAMP has not been tested by VA
    – Lack of information to determine if program is beneficial
    – Once you opt-in, you can’t go back and you lose certain protections
    – Letter says 60 days to Opt-in, but VA regulations allow opt-in at later date

  3. The lack of transparency from the VA should be addressed by everyone in DC. Thanks for the update!!

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