Recently, to everyone’s surprise even at 810 Yellow Brick Road NW, the VA, without so much as a by your leave, arbitrarily changed the the name of our favorite DC black hole. I speak, of course, of the Appeals Management Center, or as it has been affectionately known since 2001, the AMC. Seems this occurred just about the time all that discord began over Shulkin’s trip to visit the European Regional Offices.
Conjecture abounds as to why this was done and equally, as to what ARC stands for. That enigmatic ‘R’ has VA acronym pundits awash in rampant speculation. Answers abound but VA SES hierarchy are keeping their cards close to their chest.
The history of the AMC is pretty straightforward. With the gradual rise in the number of better-informed Veterans in the age of the internet, and sites like Theresa Aldrich’ 1997 Hadit.com, so, too, has the number of Veterans Appeals increased. In spite of VSO attempts in decades past to suppress this knowledge, the frequency of appeals dramatically increased after the passage of the VJRA in 1988.
By 1994, the Board of Veterans Appeals was forced to deal with this increase in a most unusual way. Rather than hire more Veterans Law Judges (VLJs), their twenty Boards of three each began essentially what we would call “memorandum decisions ” i.e. a Board of one single judge. The holding in Colvin v. Derwinski sounded the death knell for the twenty “super VLJs” (Medical doctors with Juris Doctorates) and they were phased out. This tripled the numbers of decisions generated…for a while.
As most know, with the inception of the Veterans Benefits Management System (VBMS), electronic records became the norm. VA was the last government holdout to go paperless. Following that electronic freedom came the miraculous Fully Developed Claim (FDC) with a 125-day guarantee of 98% accuracy. All most of us could see was a 98% guarantee of a need to appeal the denied 125-day claim. I penned this joke way back when not knowing the VA would plagiarize my idea.
So, the Big Brother to the FDC is now the Rapid Appeals Modernization Program or RAMP. You lose your expedited claim and now lose your expedited appeal in near-record time. Pretty soon, this will be perfected into a drive-thru window approach. You pull up to the first window and submit the claim. In about four minutes or so, you arrive around the corner at the delivery window to find out what you won- if anything. It’s instant gratification VA-style. Unfortunately, it’s not quite the same experience as the drive-thru at McFlougal’s® or a scratch-off lottery ticket. It’s more akin to the buildup and hooplah of a Publisher’s Clearinghouse Sweepstakes™- a lot of mail and very little substance.
And here’s where the AMC used to come in. VA raters and their ilk at the Fort Fumbles across the Fruited Plains are sloppy. Sometimes they bifurcate your claims and grant some only to deny or defer others. You file the NOD to get a higher rating but VA hasn’t even opined on your deferred claims. All of a sudden, the VA 8 is issued certifying your appeal to DC. It arrives there with some unfinished business- those deferred claims. Used to be the AMC would dutifully deny them and issue the required Statement of the Case (SOC) thus “perfecting” the disputed items.
With the massive increase in claimants, due, no doubt, to the endless Iraqistan War, more and more mistakes at the regional level were being committed. The AMC was invented to “clean up” a Veteran’s appeal posture. Remands back to the Regional Fort Fumbles could take a year. It was conjectured by VA bean counters that the time could be cut in half if the BVA had their own Regional Office Appeals Team with the authority to screw up what the Regional Folks were screwing up daily. And it came to pass in VAland that the 57th RO was born in DC- VBAWASH397.
By 2013, Brigadier General Allison Hickey (Ret.) had the FDC in full swing and the BVA began noticing a marked uptick in the incoming mail. Seems like every Tom, Dick and Hilda was filing an appeal. It stands to reason. The FDC model of claims jurisprudence was throwing out the baby with the bathwater… and the bathtub, for that matter. No amount of remanding to the AMC was going to cure those regional Puzzle Palaces of neglecting to “develop a claim to its optimum.” So, the BVA began giving as good as they were getting. In a tit-for-tat, the AMC began remanding back to the ROs in East Bumfork, Wyoming or Denial, Michigan and telling them to repair their own g__ d____ed submissions and return them when completed. This incidentally made the BVA look good because each remand was a “decision” -albeit a temporary one- awaiting a repair. It effectively hid the problem until about 2016 when it became obvious the BVA was inundated in unadjudicated appeals. There was simply no more warehouse space any closer in than Bethesda. They’d rented it all by now to store those 173,000 appeals. Yep. Them appeals are piling up like rabbits in summer.
With the inauguration of the National Work Queue (NWQ), all the claims are now in a basket like a Bingo Ball tumbler. Specialized claims for Camp LeJeune go to Nashville. RAMP claims all go to Seattle. Each RO is becoming a Master of one trade and a Jack of none of the others. Pretty soon if you need a spouse or a dependent added to your entitlement, it’ll probably be done by one of these Specialty ROs. I ‘d guess Sioux Falls South Dakota’s Veterans Service Center because they have a hard time counting over ten without taking off their shoes. Fortunately, most of you aren’t big Catholic or Mormon families or this might be a two-year dealbreaker. We can see where it’s headed, though. If everyone opted into RAMP, the Seattle ratings section would seize up from overload. But not! They’ll just throw it back into the NWQ. It’s an awesome device. If there was no accountability before, you should see it in the present vacuum of leadership.
Which finally brings us back to the ARC. Knowledgeable minds-as opposed to reasonable minds- cannot agree on just what the R in ARC stands for. Much like the fustercluck over the new Ihob© rebranding, VA is letting America’s imagination run wild as to what it could mean.
Suggestions are coming in at a record pace. Appeals Resource Center ? Appeals Responsibility Center? Appeals Remand Center? Appeals Regurgitation Center? Appeals Respite Center? Appeals Retribution Center? Appeals Redistribution Center? Who knows? We need a Table of Organization that’s more up to date than the M 21 1MR (Revised 1778, 1812, 1866, 1918, 1945, 1955, 1975, 1982, 1991, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018 (pending) in order to decypher the acronym.
And that’s all I’m gonna say about that.