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Understanding the logic behind the Appeals Modernization Act

By Jeremy Wolfsteller

The Veterans Benefits Administration is continuously modernizing in the way it conducts its business. This is largely due to legislative language in bills passed by Congress directing VA to improve a certain process within its administering of veterans’ benefits.

Jeremy Wolfsteller

When VA is directed to implement a new process because of a new law, it is up to the agency to adopt regulations that “should” parallel the intent of the law. You can imagine sometimes this just does not happen because of the vast amount of language in these bills. Though VA offers a public comment period, sometimes certain language in regulations is overlooked.

The Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act of 2017 became law on Aug. 23, 2017 (Pub L. 115-55). This extensive piece of legislation was to address VA’s backlog of veterans’ benefits claims pending at the Board of Veterans Appeal in Washington, D.C.

The new appeal process under AMA focused on who has responsibility and under what circumstances, either the local VA Regional Offices across the country or the Board of Veterans Appeals in D.C. VA breaks these down into three lanes of appeals. Each option has specific requirements that veterans need to be aware of. The first two options VA has an average of 125 days to adjudicate the appeal and issue a decision.

Option 1, called Higher-level Review, requires a veterans claim to be reviewed by a “more senior” claims adjudicator, although VA does not have a duty to assist in the development or allow any new evidence to be submitted.

Sounds great, right?

Option 2 is the Supplemental Claim Lane, which requires the submittal of “new and relevant” evidence that was not previous a matter of record to support the claim. If a veteran has new and relevant evidence, then VA will reopen your claim.

Option 3 is appeal directly to the Board of Veterans Appeal in Washington. VA has an average of 365 days to issue a decision. Within this lane there are three options a veteran must choose from, the quickest to render a decision is Option 1 called a direct review, no new evidence and no hearing is allowed. Option 2 is evidence submission, if a veteran has new evidence but not wanting a hearing this is the option.

Option 3 is the hearing option where veterans have new evidence and want to testify before a veterans law judge.
Veterans should understand that what I have provided here is a very brief summary of the changes under AMA.

There are many different forms that are required along with certain timeframes for these submittals. So, like always, never go into this alone, visit your CVSO or your POA office like The American Legion to assist you in the process.

Jeremy Wolfsteller is the Department of Minnesota service officer. His email is jwolfsteller@mnlegion.org.

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