Understanding The AMA System

What Is The Appeals Modernization Act (AMA)?

Signed into law on August 23, 2017 and effective on February 19th, 2019, the Appeals Modernization Act (AMA) put into place a new system for modernized appeals within the VA disability claims system. The biggest changes this program made to the old VA system, now referred to as the “legacy appeals system”, is that it introduced two new decision review options and created new appeal options within the Board of Veterans’ Appeals (Board). These new decision review options include requests for higher level review (HLRs) and supplemental claims, both of which have their own requirements and review timelines:

DifferencesHigher-Level ReviewSupplemental Claim
Ability to submit new evidence?No, closed recordYes, new and relevant
Time limit to file after decision?One yearNone, but no effective date protection after one year
Does Duty to Assist (DTA) Exist?NoYes
Decisionmakers?Decision Review Officers (DROs), Authorization Veterans Service Representatives (GS-11 VSRs), and Authorization Quality Review Specialists (AQRSs)Veterans Service Representatives (VSRs), Rating VSRs (RVSRs)

For appeal options at the Board, there are several differences between each appeal type, although all Board appeals can be filed using VA Form 10182.

DifferencesDirectEvidence OnlyHearing
Ability to submit new evidence?No, closed recordYesYes
Time limit to file evidence?No evidence90 days after NOD or move to docket90 days after hearing
Does DTA exist?NoNoNo
Hearing available?NoNoYes

Review Lanes Of The AMA

The VA will not review an issue simultaneously pending in multiple AMA lanes, or in any other benefit claim process including a rating claim, non-rating claim, or legacy appeal. The general rules for which appeals the VA will accept and when are as follows:

  • If the contested decision directly results from an initial claim for compensation or increased evaluation, the VA will accept:
    • Supplemental claim
    • HLR
    • Appeal to Board
  • If the contested decision directly results from a supplemental claim, the VA will accept:
    • Supplemental claim
    • HLR
    • Appeal to Board
  • If the contested decision directly results from a HLR, the VA will accept:
    • Supplemental claim
    • Appeal to Board
  • If the contested decision directly results from a Board Decision, the VA will accept:
    • Supplemental claim

As can be seen above, the VA will not accept two requests for higher level review in a row, nor will it accept a request for higher level review in response to a Board decision, or a Board appeal to a Board decision. An appellant may also appeal an unfavorable Board decision to the Court of Appeals For Veterans Claims (CAVC) by filing a Notice of Appeal

Withdrawals of any decision reviews must be done by submitting a written or electronic request to withdraw letter to the VA from (1) the claimant or (2) the claimant’s appointed representative. The VA does not require a certain format or form for decision withdrawal requests. If the decision review involves multiple issues, the request must specify either the specific issues that the claimant wants withdrawn by listing them or must indicate that all issues should be withdrawn. A request to withdraw a decision review is valid only if the VA receives it before issuing a decision.

Veterans can also change the type of decision reviews their claim is under, whether HLRs or supplemental claims, if the VA has not yet decided them. To do this, the veteran or his or her appointed representative must submit a request to withdrawal and a completed application for the desired review type.

Time Frames For Appeals

To maintain the earliest effective date, the VA will generally accept review requests from any eligible claimant or claimant representative within one year of the date of the decision. However, claimants may submit a supplemental claim at any point after the initial decision, though the effective date will not be maintained outside of the one-year time frame.

Although decision timelines vary from case to case, the VA designed the AMA system in an attempt to streamline the decision process and improve claim processing times. As of January 2021, the average review time before a decision is furnished for the various appeals options are:

  • HLR: 70 days
  • Supplemental Claim: 137 days
  • Board appeals
    • Direct review: 170 days
    • Evidence submission: 303 days
    • Hearing request: 384 days

Opting In To AMA From Legacy System

An election into an AMA review (HLR or supplemental claim) from a legacy appeal must include a completed application for the lane desired (via VA Form 20-0996 or VA Form 20-0995) and either (1) the block checked for “Opt-in from SOC/SSOC” or (2) a letter requesting withdrawal of the appeal from the legacy system (no specific format required). Veterans have 60 days to opt in from the date they are issued an SOC/SSOC.

Get Help With Your VA Claim

If you or someone you know is a veteran seeking help with their VA claim, please contact our office today. Our veterans disability attorneys are experienced in navigating the complexities of the VA disability adjudication system and are ready to assist you.