By now many veterans have received notice concerning reduction of appeal waiting times. The program has now started where veterans can “opt in” to the new VA RAMP program. However, some veterans may chose to stay in the older “legacy” appeal program. For many veterans this is the better option.  This article is intended to be informative, but by no means authoritative.  While overall we don’t recommend the program, there could be some advantages.  Whether to opt in depends on individual circumstances.  One big problem is that if you opt in you will not be able to appeal to BVA until next year.
Also the ability to return to the agency within one year of denial is preserved.  A veteran needs “new and relevant” evidence so the original effective date is kept.  “New and relevant” evidence is different than the previous “new and material” standard. If a veteran choses to participate they must withdraw all prior appeals/hearing requests. The other disadvantage, is that once a veteran opts in they can’t revert back to the prior legacy system.

How Does one Opt In?

A veteran can reject the opt in by simply doing nothing otherwise it appears you can opt in even after 60 days following the election letter. After receiving a decision under VA RAMP a veteran cannot appeal to the Board until the pilot program is over. VA RAMP will apparently end in February 2019.

What is Higher Level Review “HLR”?

As a part of the opt in a veteran can go for higher level review “HLR”.  The disadvantage is that no new evidence will be accepted after the opt form is submitted.  If you wish to submit new evidence then you have to switch to the supplemental claim lane instead of HLR.  The veteran can request an informal telephonic conference. If the veteran is unsatisfied with the HLR then they can either file a supplemental claim with new and relevant evidence or file an appeal to BVA. On the supplemental claim if a veteran wants to appeal that then they can file a HLR, file another supplemental claim with new and relevant evidence, or file appeal with BVA.

Supplemental Claims

For these claims the new and relevant evidence standard is presumed where there is 30 days to submit new evidence.  If denied you must use the election form to request another supplemental claim, a HLR option, or can wait in line to appeal to BVA.  This BVA option is not available until next year though.
The bottom line on this program is that we are not recommending participation at this point in time.  Furthermore, you cannot return to the legacy system once opting in and can’t appeal to the Board until at least 2019.  While there may be some advantages in terms of faster decisions the disadvantages are significant.  This includes that duty to assist claims don’t apply to HLR.  Previous BVA remand orders are not binding as well the inability to return to the legacy system.