Congress passed the Appeals Modernization Act (AMA) in 2017, in an effort to modernize the claim and appeals process, improve notification of VA decisions, speed up the processing of claims, and decrease the number of backlogged appeals. A pilot program for the new claims process was implemented after Congress passed the AMA and allowed veterans to opt into the new claims process before it went into effect on February 19, 2019.
Under the new claims process, veterans now have three appeal options to choose from when they disagree with a VA decision. While veterans still have one year to appeal a decision, under the new claims process they must choose one of the following “lanes” when filing an appeal: supplemental claim, higher-level review, or Board of Veterans’ Appeals. It is important to understand the different appeal options under the new claims process in order to ensure you are choosing the correct appeal lane for your circumstances.
In the “supplemental claim lane,” veterans can introduce new and relevant evidence that will be reviewed by a regional specialist who makes a new decision in the claim. This is typically the best appeal lane for veterans who have new evidence to submit with an appeal.
In the “higher-level review lane,” a senior adjudicator reviews the veteran’s appeal, looking primarily for errors or mistakes in the previous decision. Unlike the supplemental claim lane, new evidence cannot be introduced in the higher-level review lane. This appeal lane is often the best option for veterans who believe an error was made in deciding their case but do not have any new evidence.
The “Board of Veterans’ Appeals lane” is for veterans who want to appeal directly to the Board of Veterans Appeals (BVA) from their initial regional office decision or an unfavorable decision made in supplemental claim or higher-level review lanes. When appealing to BVA, veterans will have to choose between one of the following three dockets: direct docket, evidence docket, or hearing docket. The direct docket is for veterans who disagree with a prior decision but do not have new evidence to submit and do not want a hearing before a Veterans Law Judge (VLJ). The evidence docket, however, is for veterans who want to submit new evidence but do not want a hearing. Veterans who choose the evidence docket can submit additional evidence with their Notice of Disagreement (NOD) and within 90 days after filing the NOD. Lastly, the hearing docket is for veterans who want an in-person or teleconference hearing before a VLJ. Veterans choosing the hearing docket can file new evidence at their hearing or within 90 days after their hearing. This is typically the slowest docket option in the Board of Veterans’ Appeal lane but is the only appeal option that provides the opportunity for a hearing.
If you are not sure which appeal lane is most appropriate for your situation, you should contact a Veterans Service Organization or VA-accredited legal representative for more information or assistance.