The Veterans Appeals Improvement And Modernization Act, sometimes called the Appeals Modernization Act or AMA, went into effect in February of 2019. The new law was designed to revamp the VA disability process by giving veterans a choice over how the VA would handle their disagreements with claims decisions. Although the AMA was enacted to give veterans and their families more control and a better understanding of their disability appeals, a number of myths have arisen over this law.
Do you have questions about your disability benefits? Did you receive an unfair decision and wish to appeal? Disability Law Group is here to help.
Overview Of The AMA
The AMA modernized the VA’s disability claims and appeals process by providing easier resolution of cases and better notification of decisions. Perhaps, most significantly, however, the law created three options for review of adverse decisions:
Higher-level review. Using this method, the veteran cannot submit additional evidence. But a more senior claims adjuster will review the initial decision to determine if there were any mistakes. An informal conference will be held to allow a discussion regarding any errors that need to be corrected.
Supplemental claim. A veteran can submit new and relevant evidence under the supplemental claim option. More specifically, this means new and/or supplemental evidence to bolster a prior claim.
Appeal to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals (BVA). There are three options available with this choice. The veteran can choose:
- Direct review: no new evidence presented and no hearing
- Evidence submission: new evidence can be presented but without a hearing
- Hearing: new evidence can be presented and the veteran can testify before a Veterans Law Judge
The AMA certainly grants a number of choices to veterans they didn’t have before. But as many who have worked with veterans’ disability issues can attest, the VA is a bureaucracy with sometimes confusing rules and regulations. We will examine the top ten most common myths about the AMA.
Myth 1: Veterans disability law has changed
While the claims and appeals procedure is now different, the basic veterans disability law remains the same. The AMA, therefore, does not change the substance of disability law for veterans. It only alters the way that claims are processed and adverse decisions are reviewed.
Myth 2: Veterans can’t keep their effective dates
The effective date is the date from which disability benefits begin to accrue. This date is typically determined by the date of the initial claim filing. Under the AMA, veterans can keep their effective dates if they timely appeal a VA decision.
Myth 3: The evidence standard is harder to meet
Under the old (legacy) system, the evidentiary standard used to review appeals was known as “new and material.” This was actually a higher standard than that used under the AMA, which is called “new and relevant.” However, inconsistent application of the correct standard is causing confusion among veterans. Your attorney should understand the correct standard the VA must use in deciding appeals.
Myth 4: Wait times have been reduced
This may depend on whether your appeal is under the AMA or the legacy system. By some estimates, appeals under the legacy system that are pending at the regional office are taking longer than appeals under the new system. Adjudicators are issuing quicker decisions at the regional office when those appeals are under the AMA. At the BVA level, however, the VA is prioritizing the legacy appeals first to attempt to clear a backlog.
In general, the AMA is speeding up appeals (notwithstanding the backlog of legacy appeals). But this leads to another misconception about the new law.
Myth 5: Shorter wait times equate to better decisions
While some decisions have been made more quickly under the AMA, thereby reducing wait times, this doesn’t mean these decisions have been favorable to veterans. The amount of time you wait therefore does not necessarily correspond to better decisions.
Myth 6: I should choose an option that allows me to submit new evidence
Some review options allow veterans to submit new evidence to bolster their original claims. But submitting new evidence isn’t always the best choice. A mistake may have been made during the initial review, for instance that could be corrected quickly. That means a higher-level review (which does not allow new evidence) might be best. Every claim is different, so consult a knowledgeable veterans disability benefits attorney.
Myth 7: If you’re in the legacy system, you have to stay in the legacy system
Veterans with legacy appeals have the option to switch to the AMA system. If you receive a decision on a pending appeal you can opt into AMA. But you can also stay in the legacy system. Talk to an attorney about which appeals path is right for your claim.
Myth 8: I already have a favorable decision, which may now be in jeopardy
If you’ve already received a favorable VA decision, no one can take that away just because of the new AMA. The AMA does not require a review of your claim if you are satisfied with it.
Myth 9: There’s more time to appeal an adverse decision
Even though there is a backlog of legacy appeals, veterans still have one year to appeal an adverse initial decision. That means one year from the date of the notification letter that the VA sends you indicating that your disability claim has been denied. You may be able to appeal if you miss the one-year deadline, but you risk losing your effective date.
Myth 10: I don’t need an attorney under the new appeals system
Although the VA has promised much-needed reform to the appeals process, that doesn’t mean claimants won’t benefit from the representation and advocacy of a VA disability attorney. In fact, the confusion over such matters as which evidentiary standard the VA should use, and whether or when to opt into one appeal lane versus another, in addition to when and what evidence to submit are some of the many reason to hire an experienced veterans disability lawyer. A certified VA attorney can also guide you to the route that best meets your circumstances and increases the chances of a successful appeal, protecting your rights and ensuring you receive every penny you deserve.
If your initial disability claim has been denied, or you have questions about the AMA and VA benefits, reach out to Disability Law Group today for your free consultation.