An attorney or representative who is accredited by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is legally allowed to help claimants in obtaining benefits from the VA. With this accrediting program, a VA Accredited Attorney is allowed to help Veterans and their families.
Accredited personnel have undergone extensive training to assist Veterans in navigating the maze of benefits that are at their disposal. Legally, these people can speak for Veterans, their dependents, and their survivors regarding VA benefits. To do so, a VA Form 21-22a must be signed between the VA accredited attorney and the veteran or his dependent or survivor.
These benefits include, but are not limited to, disability compensation and compensation for dependents and survivors. Veterans cannot be represented by anybody or any group that the VA does not recognize.
Who Can Be Accredited by the Veterans Administration (VA)?
The Department of Veterans Affairs can accredit individuals who want to assist Veterans with their disability claims. After completing a rigorous application and training procedure, the VA recognizes persons who pass as competent to help Veterans with their claims before the Department of Veterans Affairs.
However, you do not have to be an attorney to be accredited.
Accredited Attorneys, Claims Agents, or Representatives of Veterans Service Organizations (VSO) near you can be easily found through the Department of Veterans Affairs wesite.
How to Obtain Department of Veterans Affairs Accreditation
Accreditation by the VA is required before a person may assist a Veteran in preparing, presenting, and pursuing a claim for VA benefits.
People who are eligible for accreditation include:
- Veterans service group members
- Claims agents
Each category must meet the following requirements to be accredited:
- Fill out the VA Form 21a. Do not forget to attach any relevant documentation to VA Form 21a.
- Submit your VA Form 21a and additional documentation to the Office of the General Counsel.
- For the first 12 months following the date of accreditation, complete 3 hours of qualifying continuing legal education (CLE) requirements, and for the next two years, complete 3 hours of CLE.
- Receive your training certificate. A copy of this should be sent to the OGC.
- Begin practicing.
- Submit a certificate of good standing to the OGC every year.
Does a Veteran's Affairs-Certified Attorney Make a Difference?
Determining if an attorney or non-legal representative is better suited to appeal a VA decision could seem tricky. How much an attorney or agent can help you with your claim depends on a wide range of criteria, including:
- What is their level of familiarity with the military?
- What kind of cases have they handled?
- To what number of service members and Veterans has this organization provided assistance?
- How many times a year do they submit VA appeals?
- How much time do they devote to this work?
- Are they specialists, or a jack of all trades?
Asking yourself these questions will help you make a better-informed decision.
Is a VA Accredited Agent or Lawyer Necessary for You?
If you have a VA claim, you may choose to select an agent or lawyer to represent you. Below are a few examples requiring the services of a VA accredited attorney:
The Initial Application and Filing of the VA Claim
This is the first stage of the process. It involves filling out some basic claim forms, and your local veterans service officer is ideally suited to help you with this type of claim. In many straightforward cases where the evidence in the service treatment records is clear, and there is a favorable C&P exam, claims can be granted at this initial stage.
The Denial of VA Benefits
There is an appeals procedure for VA claims, and you should never assume that you have to accept the VA's original decision as final. Once there has been an initial denial, under the new AMA rules, a veteran can retain a lawyer at this stage. Given the different appeal options following a denial, a veteran would be wise to consult an accredited VA attorney for guidance on developing a strategy for appeal.
Some veterans continue with their veteran service officer at this stage, and that is perfectly appropriate. However, in difficult cases where there are complex medical issues and insufficient evidence, often the only thing that can get a claim granted is a highly qualified medical expert.
Typically, veterans have been impaired due to their disabilities and have been unable to work as much as they would like. Therefore, their finances are strained. This means that they often cannot afford to hire a medical expert, which often costs thousands of dollars upfront. But by hiring a top-notch VA disability law firm, the law firm can often advance the cost of those experts on behalf of the disabled veteran to assist in obtaining expert VA nexus letters or opinions that will ultimately help the veteran win the claim.
Service officers and non-attorney advocates often do not have the resources to advance thousands of dollars on behalf of their clients to obtain the necessary evidence to win. Generally, only law firms can offer this, and that is why in very challenging cases, a law firm should be the first choice.
Your Evaluation of VA Benefits Was Too Low
Were there any aspects of your rating that didn't meet your expectations? To appeal a VA denial, your VA accredited attorney or agent can assist you with supporting proof and other data. When VA issues a rating decision that denies a higher rating or does not increase a rating high enough, a veteran should consider appealing—especially if the veteran is unable to work because of his service-connected disabilities Remember, any appeal for a higher rating when a veteran is unable to work should automatically imply a claim for TDIU.
Your Benefits for VA Unemployability or TDIU Were Rejected
It is particularly important to immediately discuss with your VA accredited attorney any denial for total disability individual unemployability or TDIU. In short, we at Gang & Associates believe that if your service connected disabilities render you incapable of maintaining a gainful occupation, then you should be rated at the 100% rate or receive TDIU.
Often, VA will deny these claims if you don't have a combined rating that is high enough with at least one disability rated at 40% by itself, and a combined rating of 70% overall or one disability rated at 60% by itself.
The important point to consider is that if your service-connected disabilities make it impossible for you to maintain gainful employment, then TDIU must be addressed. One of the reasons we strongly recommend hiring an attorney in cases involving total disability individual unemployability or VA IU is that a vocational expert is often necessary.
Law firms that are involved with VA IU cases can typically advance the cost of these vocational experts upfront, thereby leveraging their resources in favor of their clients to help their clients get really strong evidence to win their TDIU claims.
Veterans who are unable to work because of service-connected medical issues may be denied Individual Unemployability payments by the VA. If you or your representative believe that you have sufficient evidence to support your claim, you should file an appeal.
You’re Owed Money
Sometimes the VA denial grants you the correct rating but does not assign the correct effective date. This means that the VA has failed to pay you significant sums of retroactive pay or past due benefits. Under these circumstances, it is very important to file an appeal within the applicable appeal period so that you can seek appellate review of the issue of effective date. Obtaining the earliest possible effective date is a key factor in maximizing any retroactive past due benefits.
As part of VA benefits, Veterans may be eligible for significant compensation that dates many years. In fact, our VA disability benefits law firm once obtained 54 years of retroactive back pay for a client. We had several other awards over the years that paid retroactive benefits of over 40 years. Typical VA blunders include providing incorrect effective dates for such payments. A VA accredited attorney or agent can help you appeal for more retroactive pay or an earlier effective date.
You Want a Well-Developed Claim That Is Going to Be Successful
The VA claim system has deadlines, paperwork requirements, and other criteria that may necessitate a representative's assistance, which is why we recommend a VA accredited attorney.
VA Appeals Attorneys
If you're a Veteran who needs help appealing a VA decision, our team at Veteran’s Disability Info. is here to help. We are certified to represent veterans from all four military branches, and we are dedicated to supporting Veterans.
You may schedule a case review here or call us at 888.878.9350 to find out how we can help.