Cindy Speaker: Good afternoon and welcome to our broadcast today. My name is Cindy Speaker. I have with me today as my guest Attorney Nathan Guin of Gardberg & Kemmerly Attorneys at Law.
Nathan Guin: Hey. How’s it going?
Cindy Speaker: How are you?
Nathan Guin: I’m good. It’s been a while. I’m glad that we finally got a chance to get back together for sure.
Cindy Speaker: I know. It’s so good to see you because for a while there, we were talking regularly, and it’s been a little while, so this is good.
Nathan Guin: Absolutely. Hopefully I can get some good information out there today.
Cindy Speaker: Yes. You always give us great information. We’re going to talk about a topic relevant to veterans. It’s called the Appeals Modernization Act.
Nathan Guin: Yep.
Cindy Speaker: Tell us a little bit about what that is. I believe you referred to it as AMA.
Nathan Guin: Right. That’s correct. A lot of people, a lot of veterans, will probably be familiar, somewhat familiar, with this through the RAMP program. For about a year and a half, veterans were getting peppered with letters pretty much every month asking them if they wanted to opt-in to this RAMP program, which was the Rapid Appeals Modernization Program, which was basically a precursor, kind of a pregame or a preseason more or less, I guess, to the new Appeals Modernization Act.
Nathan Guin: Now, starting on February 19 of this year, of 2019, basically if you get a statement of the case or a supplemental statement of the case, then you are eligible to opt-in to the Appeals Modernization Act, which gives you various different, new tracks that you can go to for your appeals, different options that you can take, that’s supposed to … The Legacy appeals process now, which is basically all the claims are in the same docket. No matter if you want a hearing, you don’t want a hearing, it doesn’t matter. You’re all in that same line waiting in the same docket, but this way, the idea is to hopefully get people options, split it up, and potentially cut down the wait times, which are just absurd at this point.
Cindy Speaker: Okay. Is that the primary thing, that it cuts down the wait time?
Nathan Guin: That is the primary intended goal. There’s been backlogs of hundreds of thousands of cases at VA for years. I’m sure … Actually, all the rest of the attorneys in our VA department are at a NOVA Conference right now, so they’ll get updated information about what the backlog is at certain points, and they’re going to get a lot of new information about this Appeals Modernization Act as well. There should be some more coming that way.
Nathan Guin: But I’m sorry. I completely forgot the question.
Cindy Speaker: No, that’s okay. Who’s eligible for this?
Nathan Guin: Okay. The people who are eligible for the Appeals Modernization Program are if get in a … Any veteran, basically, but if you have a statement of the case or a supplemental statement of the case, at that time, you have the option to opt-in to the Appeals Modernization Act, the new program, and get out of the Legacy docket. Although, it’s important to note, once you get out of the Legacy docket, you are out for good. You can’t get back in. You’re forever in the Appeals Modernization Act.
Cindy Speaker: Okay. Tell me the difference. You have the Legacy docket, the Appeals Modernization. What’s the difference?
Nathan Guin: Right. The Legacy docket is the tradition appeals process that we all know and don’t really love. Like we said earlier, everyone in the same line, everybody just basically waiting for years and years and years for different decisions to be issued. No matter what part of the process you’re at, it’s either going to be a year and a half to-
Cindy Speaker: Let me just stop you for a minute though.
Nathan Guin: Yep.
Cindy Speaker: For a decision to be issued, is this about veterans benefits? When you say appeals, are we talking about the first shot at getting veterans benefits, disability benefits, or are we talking about appeals after you’ve been denied?
Nathan Guin: This is after you get an initial rating decision. You’ll put in your initial claim, you’ll get a rating decision. Even at this point, if you have the statement of the case or an SSOC, supplemental statement of the case, you would have had to file your initial appeal, which is a notice of disagreement with that rating decision. I believe that might change down the road where once you get a rating decision, you may be able to opt-in to these lanes at that point, but right now, it’s just people with statements of the case and supplemental statement of the case. Those people would have at least had one appeal at that point, at least, if not a couple. If they have a supplemental statement of the case, they could have had a couple of appeals that have already been submitted.
Cindy Speaker: Okay. Alright. What are the pros and cons, would you say, of the program?
Nathan Guin: The pros … The cons are really not supposed to be cons. The cons really were with the RAMP program. I’m not sure if they’re going to be remedied in this particular act. I’m going to have to wait and see what happens. The real problem with the RAMP program was you didn’t have a lot of appeal … You’d get a decision within like 120 days, but your appeals options were basically nil. If you got a denial, you were basically out of luck and there’s nothing you could really do about it. I’m hoping that’s not the case on this. I haven’t really done enough research to know. Theoretically, you’re supposed to be able to opt-in to other options even if you get denied. If you choose one lane and you get denied, you can kind of opt-in to the other after that point. That’s my understanding based on what I’ve read so far. The cons could be potentially a lack of appeals processes or confusing appeals processes. We haven’t gotten to the point now where a claim has really gone through that point yet so we don’t know what that looks like.
Nathan Guin: The pros are supposed to be that you have options. You have options, and you will not be placed in the same docket as everybody else. There’s a couple of different options you have. You can, when you get a decision, put in a supplemental claim, which allows you to put in new and relevant evidence to be considered. You could go for a higher level review claim, which they’ll send it to a higher level review officer. At that time, you’re not allowed to submit any new evidence, so that’s kind of the wrinkle there. Or you can opt-in to the Board of Veterans Appeals. You have three different options there. You can either go for a direct review, which is, “I have no more evidence, and I don’t want a hearing.” There’s an option where you have more evidence, but still don’t want a hearing. The third option is if you have evidence, or you don’t, but you want to testify or submit new evidence or have a hearing before the board, you can opt-in to that as well.
Nathan Guin: The idea is that not every veteran and not every case would warrant a hearing or you wouldn’t need a hearing. Basically, it’s kind of a way to tailor your own … Kind of like choose your own ending storybooks. If you want to do this, you can turn to this page. It’s supposed to give them a lot more freedom. The idea is that because they’ll be split up over multiple dockets, each of those dockets will be shorter and therefore hopefully getting decisions out quicker.
Nathan Guin: The pros are supposed to be great. We’ll have to wait and see. I’m kind of worried that it’ll just end up being multiple log jams as opposed to just one, but hopefully it’ll work out. The idea of it is great. I really think the idea is great because there’s a lot of times where if you have a good medical opinion, you may not want to go to a hearing, and it may take longer to get a hearing, so you just say, “Hey, let’s let it ride with what we have. We’ve got good medical evidence.” Sometimes that’s all you need. Other times there’s more nuance to cases, especially when it comes to like people who were serving in Thailand. That’s one that comes to mind for Agent Orange, where you’d want to explain how you were exposed, so you may want a hearing for that because it’s better to have an opportunity to have a conversation with the judge.
Nathan Guin: It really just allows you to look at your case. It’s going to be a lot more interesting for attorneys too because you get a chance to really evaluate what you want, where you want it, how you want it. You can really represent your client’s interests a lot better, I think, theoretically through this because you can really say, “Hey, your case fits this lane, so we should do that.” I think it’ll allow us to help our veterans a lot more and hopefully get them decisions that are favorable and come a little bit quicker than what we’re used to.
Cindy Speaker: Yeah. The interesting thing is when I talk with you, Nathan, I always am … What comes to my mind most often is, “Boy, you really need a lawyer for this”, because, once again, it’s just very complex. To navigate all of this on your own, I think it’d be difficult. Tell us how you can help.
Nathan Guin: Yeah. Right now, we’re learning just like everybody else, but we’re really keeping a close eye on everything. We’re gathering all of the information we can as quickly as we can. Like I said earlier, all the other VA attorneys in our firm are at NOVA in Nashville this weekend, so they are getting all the information you could possibly want about VA and different ways to help the veterans. Really, we handle claims from the beginning. Even if you haven’t filed a claim, we can help you file a claim. If you got denied or if you got an evaluation for [inaudible] that you’re just not happy with and you feel like it should be increased, or if you can’t work anymore because of your disabilities, we can help you get additional benefits there. Really, from the beginning of the claim to the end of the claim, we can pick it up at any time and we can just basically do whatever is in our power to help you to develop your case and get you the benefits that you’re entitled to.
Cindy Speaker: Yeah. Nathan, how can they reach your firm?
Nathan Guin: They can give us a call. We are in Mobile, Alabama. Our number’s 251-343-1111. They can also go to www.gardberglaw.com, G-A-R-D-B-E … G-A-R-D-B-E-R-G-law.com. Also, it’s important to note, I always like to point this out, even though we are in Mobile, the VA law is basically administrative law, so we’re all accredited through the VA, which means you could be anywhere in the world essentially, anywhere in the country. As long as you have a claim with the VA, we’re allowed to handle that for you. If you see this and you happen to be in California or Maine or wherever you might be, and you need help and you can’t find anyone around you, geography is not an issue. We represent people all over the United States and do, I think, a very good job of that-
Cindy Speaker: Oh absolutely.
Nathan Guin: … and kind of balancing that. If you’re anywhere and you can see this, you can reach out to us and we’ll be able to help you if we can.
Cindy Speaker: Excellent, excellent. Nathan, thanks for being with us today.
Nathan Guin: Absolutely. It’s my pleasure.
Cindy Speaker: To those of you watching, either live or by replay, if you have questions/comments, you can put them right on this page. Nathan will get them answered for you. We appreciate you being with us. Thanks everybody. Bye.