To help Veterans obtain benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs, attorneys and representatives accredited by VA must be recognized as such by the agency. It is the goal of the accreditation program to guarantee that Veterans and their families have access to competent legal representation throughout the course of the appeals process for VA compensation awards. Attorneys, authorized claims agents, Veteran service organizations (VSOs), and state or county government agencies are examples of Veterans Administration-accredited representatives.
Accredited agents are trained to assist claimants in understanding and pursuing the VA benefits available to them. But these agents lack legal training, did not go to law school, and did not take and pass a bar exam. On the other hand, lawyers have formal training in the law and legal advocacy and are licensed members of a State bar. For a variety of benefits, such as disability compensation and dependency and indemnity compensation, these persons are legally permitted to represent Veterans, service members, and their families before the VA. To represent Veterans, individuals and groups must be approved by the Veterans Administration (VA).
What Is Involved in Obtaining Accreditation?
Representatives must complete a test and a background check and regular training sessions to be accredited by the VA. Veterans Administration accredited attorneys must also meet the following guidelines set out by VA:
Individuals with a VA certification will:
- Diligently carry out their responsibilities on behalf of a Veteran;
- Be honest with claimants and the VA;
- Ensure that claimants receive competent help;
- Assist claimants in a timely and thorough manner.
A VA-accredited individual is not allowed to do the following:
- Circumvent a code of behavior by virtue of their deeds or actions;
- Conduct themself in a dishonest or deceptive manner;
- Require payment of costs that are either excessive or illegal before entering into an agreement;
- Inhibit a claim's processing;
- Compel a claimant to accept advantages or rights that they do not deserve;
- Attempt to influence a claimant in a way that harms the VA's ability to do its business;
- Do anything illegal or immoral.
Title 38 of the United States Code of Federal Regulations may not be violated.
Is a Veterans Administration-Approved Attorney Necessary?
Certain applicants feel the need to engage a lawyer to get their claims considered or taken seriously by Veterans Affairs because not all claims proceed as planned. After submitting a claim, some people may not be aware of all their legal choices and may need to learn more. And some are attempting to overturn the VA's decision to deny their claims.
The VA recognizes this need for outside assistance and offers specific accreditation to attorneys who seek to represent Veterans in this capacity to help Veterans.
The Benefits of Using a Veterans Administration Accredited Attorney
In addition to filing claims on your behalf, VA-accredited attorneys can also assist you in other ways. Veterans and their families can rely on the aid of these lawyers and law firms (where appropriate) in a variety of ways.
Specifically, VA accredited attorneys went to law school and had formal legal training. They are also licensed professionals and a member of a State bar and likely several federal jurisdictions as well. They are skilled in developing claims and evidence and understand how to navigate the law. Typically, lawyers are familiar with the case law coming out of the federal appeals courts whereas non-attorney agents are often not well-versed in these areas. Moreover, if your case has to be appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, only a lawyer can appear before this federal court. In addition, law firms can leverage their resources to help veterans obtain the experts they need to win their claims.
Do You Have To Pay For The Services You Receive?
Agents and attorneys are prohibited from charging or receiving compensation for services rendered before the day on which a notice of disagreement is filed with respect to the Veteran's case (38 U.S.C. § 5904) in older, legacy cases.
Under the new Appeals Modernization Act or AMA, lawyers or agents can charge a fee after the initial decision. In the initial presentation of an application for benefits, an agent or attorney may help a Veteran or a claimant without charge. After the decision or after the NOD in an AMA or legacy appeal, respectively, lawyers can charge a fee.
VA disability lawyers are expected to adhere to certain ethical standards of reasonableness. When determining if a price is "fair" or "unreasonable," the VA considers a wide range of variables. This implies that they will charge a fee based on a percentage of the benefits that have been granted but have not yet been paid.
There are, of course, exceptions to the rule, because various levels of effort can lead to varying degrees of success. VA considers the following when determining if a fee is reasonable:
- Service scope and nature;
- The case's complexity;
- Attorneys degree of experience and expertise;
- Other attorneys’ prices for comparable services;
- Length of time devoted to the case by the representative;
- Goal(s) achieved by the representative;
- How many stages of appeals the claim went through;
- Whether or not the payment of fees was agreed as dependent on the obtained outcomes, and if so, how much.
Fees typically charged by attorneys range from 20% of past due benefits recovered to 33%. In general, you get what you pay for, and in complex cases, veterans should not be afraid to pay a high legal fee because it is often necessary to win the case.
Should You Use a Veterans Administration Accredited Attorney?
As a service to Veterans and their families, the VA established its accreditation program. Working with a VA-accredited attorney is critical during the claims process.
Despite the VA's mandate that its employees undergo annual training, each agent or attorney is unique. Finding a lawyer with demonstrated training, experience, and great communication skills is thus crucial.
When representing veterans and their families in their quest for benefits, accredited attorneys are bound by a strict code of conduct established by both the state bar and the American Bar Association, and the VA. Be very cautious about utilizing the assistance of an individual who is not accredited, and never pay a non-accredited representative a fee.