I commend NPR for its ongoing series on the plight of veterans seeking benefits. The January 14, 2015 story, "Without Help, Navigating Benefits Can Be Overwhelming for Veterans" illustrates some of the reasons for the long delays and repeated denials. The lack of knowledge and adequate assistance can be blamed for many of the problems veterans face when applying for benefits.
The NPR story highlighted the fact that many veterans are uneducated about what their VA benefits are and, unfortunately, little has been done to communicate the proper information to veterans. In addition, the VA applications can be difficult and complicated, and veterans often do not receive the assistance they need.
To address this concern, there are vetarans' service officers ("VSOs"). These officers can be local county or State representatives, or the national organizations like the VFW, DAV, or American Legion. The problem is, depending on where a veteran lives, his access to these VSOs may be limited.
The NPR story noted that some veterans don't even know where to turn to get assistance from a VSO. Younger veterans may not feel comfortable going to the local American Legion or VFW because of the perception that these organziations are for older veterans. Sometimes tracking down the local VSO can be hard due to his limited schedule.
Regardless, NPR highlighted a problem and a roadblock to veterans realizing their full benefits. Unfortunately, the NPR story did not address the role of veterans disability lawyers in helping veterans with their VA appeals. Although frowned on by some VSOs, a veterans disability attorney can provide a whole new level of representation at the appeals level. The VSOs are invaluable in helpnig veterans file their initial claims.
But in cases of significant complexity, requiring outside medical or vocational experts, leveraging the resources of a veterans benefits attorney or law firm can make the difference between winning or losing. In general, top VA appeals lawyers aggressively develop evidence in support of their clients' cases. This means hiring quality medical experts that can face off head-to-head with the VA experts.
Without an expert of his own, a veteran is often at the mercy of whatever the VA examiner says. If the VA examiner writes a medical opinion against the veteran's claim, then the claim will be denied. That is, unless the veteran can effectively refute the VA medical opinion.
And to most effectively refute a VA medical opinion, obtaining a rebuttal opinion from a private medical expert is the best way. But for a veteran with limited resources and no network of medical professionals throughout the country, obtaining such evidence would be difficult at best.
This is why hiring a veterans disabilty lawyer for the VA appeal can be most effective. The veteran can then rely on the attorney's resources and contacts to obtain the right medical expert.
I hope that NPR will expand its series to address the important role veterans disabilty attorneys play in the process of helping disabled veterans obtain their VA benefits.