Active participation of the US military in operations around the globe, particularly over the last two decades, has led to a spike in VA claims over the last several years. The old appeals process, which is often referred to as the “legacy” system, typically took anywhere from three months to three years to handle benefits claims.
RAMP and Reduced Appeal Wait Times
A new system called RAMP (the Rapid Appeals Modernization Program) was signed into law by President Trump in 2017. The new law aimed to entirely revamp the VA disability benefits appeals process and bring VA appeal wait times down to 125 days. The new program replaced the legacy system on February 19, 2019.
If you filed a claim on or after this date, your claim will be handled using the new appeals system. However, if you had a pending appeal in the old system or you did not opt to have your appeal processed by the RAMP program, it will be handled using the legacy system.
The long-term goal is for the VA to handle all appeals, both new and old, using the new system, but this process will understandably take a few years to complete. In the meantime, the VA conducts reviews of appeals using the legacy system and new system in tandem.
The Legacy VA Appeals Process
Some estimates of the VA claims appeal backlog are as high as 400,000, so the backlog and long timelines associated with each step are understandable.To understand wait times for VA appeals that were submitted before the RAMP system was launched, it helps to first understand the steps involved in the old system.
- File a claim. You are allowed to first file an informal claim to preserve your effective date, but you must follow an informal claim with a formal claim within one year.
- Your claim is sent to your Regional Office (RO) for review.
- The RO issues a Rating Decision based on the nature of your claim and the injuries or disabilities you suffer from. This step takes anywhere from a few months to multiple years to complete. The Rating Decision either grants or denies benefits or claims you have filed for. Please click this link if you want to learn more about how to increase your rating.
- If everything looks good, the story ends here and you start receiving benefits, which will be backdated to your effective date.
- If your claim for benefits was denied or you disagree with the VA’s rating of your injuries, you need to file a Notice of Disagreement (NOD). This step can also take several months to multiple years.
- After submitting a NOD, your RO will look at your case again and begin processing a Statement of the Case (SOC).
- When an SOC is initiated, your case goes to a higher-level review called a DRO (name).
- The DRO conducts a review of its own and issues an SOC based on the evidence in your file, either granting or denying the benefits you filed for.
What to Do if Your Benefits Are Denied
If you are denied benefits, you can file a VA disability appeal to keep your claim moving in the system by filing VA Form 9. You only have 60 days to file Form 9. If you miss the deadline, your claim is closed and you have to start the process all over again.
You may want to consider getting a VA disability lawyer who has the experience and legal knowledge to successfully advocate for your rights. An attorney could get you approved, get you approved sooner, get you a higher rating, and possibly even get you more benefits.