Differences Between the Legacy Appeals System and Appeals Reform
VA's Appeals Reform intends to address the current appeals system's overall inefficiency by implementing a multi-lane review system that could lead to the earlier resolution of disagreements. Here are several important differences between the old and new systems:
VA's Duty to AssistThe duty to assist requires VA to gather information that may help develop and support the veteran*s claim, such as service personnel records and VA medical records. The new regulations under Appeals Reform limit VA*s duty to assist veterans insofar as it is only required when a veteran files an initial claim for benefits or when a veteran files a supplemental claim with new and relevant evidence. The duty to assist no longer applies to the Board, meaning the Board will no longer be obligated to remand decisions for the purpose of developing additional evidence for the claim.
New and Relevant EvidenceUnder Appeals Reform, Congress changed the standard to reopen a claim from new and material evidence to *new and relevant evidence*. Importantly, this new standard will not impose a higher evidentiary threshold than the former. VA defines *new* evidence as evidence that was not previously submitted to VA. *Relevant* evidence is evidence that tends to prove or disprove a veteran*s claim. An example of *new and relevant* evidence may include service records related to an in-service event to establish service connection.
Effective Dates and Final DecisionsIn the new appeals system, effective dates are based on the date of the substantially complete initial claim, the date of the supplemental claim if filed more than one year after a final decision, or the date entitlement arose. If continuously pursued, the effective date is preserved. Similar to the Legacy Appeals system, the new Appeals Reform regulations include guidelines for when a VA decision becomes final. Under the Legacy system, decisions became final when the appeal period for that decision passed without the veteran filing the appropriate appeal. The main difference under Appeals Reform is that veterans will always have one year to appeal and preserve their effective no matter what type of decision they receive if they choose to file a supplemental claim with new and relevant evidence. When a decision becomes final, veterans will lose their effective dates since the claim will no longer be continuously appealed.