Today marks one year since the president signed in to law one of the most significant legislative changes in decades affecting VA and the Veterans it serves. The Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act of 2017 (Appeals Modernization Act) was signed on August 23, 2017, effectively transforming VA’s appeals process from a complex, frustrating process into one that is simple, timely and transparent. VA is working toward full implementation of the law by February 2019.
The road to reform began in March 2016 with a VA-sponsored “Appeals Summit.” Together, VA leaders, Veterans, Veterans Service Organizations and members of Congress drafted a legislative proposal that outlined a more efficient process. Three processing lanes were created—higher-level review, a supplemental claim, and an appeal to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals (BVA).
Veterans are already benefitting from the new process. In November 2017, VA began the Rapid Appeals Modernization Program (RAMP). RAMP allows Veterans with an active appeal to choose between two of the three new lanes immediately, before full implementation of the law. Implementation of BVA’s appeals lane for Veterans who have appealed their RAMP decision is expected to begin in October 2018.
To date, more than 40,000 Veterans have chosen RAMP and more than $45 million in retroactive benefits has been paid to Veterans. Additionally, BVA has issued more than 73,000 decisions thus far in FY 2018, a historic high, and is on track to deliver over 81,000 decisions to Veterans by the end of the fiscal year. Both BVA and the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) are working together to recruit, hire and train new employees, as well as implement new processes and technology into the appeals system that will improve the lives of Veterans and their families. VBA is utilizing experienced personnel from appeals teams at VA regional offices to process RAMP elections.
VBA also began establishing two new Decision Review Operations Centers (DROCs) to process claims under the new appeals framework. Staffing of these new DROCs is supported through several existing hiring initiatives, to include the Warrior Training Advancement Course (WARTAC). WARTAC is an education and employment opportunity for transitioning Servicemembers to complete a national-level training program to become VBA claims processors. This program can be completed while still on active duty. VBA is currently conducting a WARTAC session at Fort Stewart, Georgia, and graduates from this session will be offered Veterans Service Representative positions at DROC sites. VBA also plans to hold several additional WARTAC sessions during fiscal year 2019 to staff DROCs.
VA remains deeply committed to improving the lives of Veterans through innovative and meaningful ways. This is just the beginning.