By Debbie Gregory.
Any time a veteran files a claim for disability that the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) rejects, they have the right to appeal. But the average wait before a final decision is six years — and one service member has even waited 25 years. As a result, the number of pending appeals has increased sharply, rising in the past two years alone from 380,000 to now 470,000 pending appeals.
The first pilot program of the new law, the Appeals Modernization Act of 2017 called the Rapid Appeals Modernization Program (RAMP), is off to a slow start.
A lot of veterans have received information about, or invitations to join RAMP. The new law will be fully implemented in 2019, but in the meantime, the pilot program allows the VA to test how appeals will be handled in the future.
The law is meant to jump-start appeals reform within the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), with an eye toward ending the backlog.
To date, VA has sent veterans 15,000 invitations to try out the new RAMP process. About 3 percent of those who have been contacted opted into the program.
But members of Congress and GAO said they were concerned that VA’s sample size for the pilot is too small.
“If you can’t gather and analyze the data, we’re just going to be whistling in the wind,” committee Chairman Phil Roe (R-Tenn.) said. “When we start this RAMP up full, essentially a year from now, this is a massive change in how things are done at the VA. With so few people … how do we encourage more veterans to switch to a system they know to one right now that’s new and untried?”
VA said it would continue to work with veterans service organizations and Congress to help encourage their members and constituents to consider trying the department’s new system.
So far, VBA has been processing those appeals within 37 days, and 61 percent of veterans have won their appeals — significantly higher than the 25 percent of veterans who typically earn a positive decision.
Once VA fully implements RAMP, veterans with high-level claims will have a decision in 125 days and cases that go to the Board of Veterans Appeals will be finished within about a year.