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Veterans who were injured or were diagnosed with a sickness while on active duty in the military are eligible for VA benefits. Veterans whose existing conditions worsened due to their service are also eligible. The process for filing for VA disability is relatively straightforward, and you do not need an attorney to file.
However, there are some situations where an attorney can help you ensure you receive your benefits, especially when you are finding it difficult to get your benefits yourself. While there is some cost involved in hiring a VA disability attorney, the past and future benefits you can receive outweigh that initial cost.
Do You Need an Attorney to File for VA Disability?
You do not need a VA disability attorney when you make your initial claim, though you can choose to have one.
The VA accredits three types of representatives to help veterans have access to responsible, qualified representation during the claims process. These three groups include:
- Attorneys: An attorney must be a member in good standing of at least one state bar. To maintain accreditation, attorneys must complete three hours of qualifying continuing legal education within a one-year period, again within the next three years, and then every two years.
- Veteran Service Organization (VSO) representatives: VSOs must meet requirements for recognition, proving their mission, work, and resources are devoted to helping veterans.
- Claim agents: To become accredited, claims agents must undergo a character review by the VA Office of General Counsel and pass a written examination about VA procedures and laws. To maintain accreditation, agents must complete three hours of qualifying continuing legal education within a one-year period, again within the next three years, and then every two years.
When You Should Consider Consulting a VA-Accredited Attorney
Some veterans use VSOs or agents throughout the process, but you should consider getting a VA disability claims attorney if your initial claim is denied. The Board of Veterans' Appeals publishes a booklet called "How Do I Appeal?" that shows how complex the process can be.
An experienced veteran disability attorney understands the law, knows how to interpret medical evidence, and is well-versed in formulating arguments to help clients in and out of the military get disability compensation. VA Board of Appeals data show that in 2021, attorneys were more successful during appeals than agents or VSOs.
There are two types of appeals in which having an attorney with experience helping disabled veterans can assist you in getting a favorable outcome:
Denial of Disability Benefits
The VA is streamlining the appeals process for veterans. To appeal a VA disability decision made after Feb. 19, 2019, there are three options.
- Supplemental Claims are for new or relevant evidence. An attorney experienced in disability claims for those in and out of the military can help you find this evidence. For example, they can help obtain medical records and buddy statements from people you served with that weren't included in your original claim.
- Higher Level Reviews are requests that a senior reviewer looks at your claim. They look for errors or offer differences of opinion that could grant you disability benefits. You cannot submit new evidence in this review.
- Board Appeals are an option after an initial claim, Supplemental Claim, or Higher-Level Review. Your VA disability attorney can help you choose a Board Appeal with or without new evidence. You can also ask for a hearing from home, via videoconferencing at a VA near you, or in person in Washington, DC.
If one of these appeals is denied, your lawyer can help you explore options for additional appeals up to the US Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims.
To qualify for VA disability benefits, your discharge must be honorable or under honorable conditions. If you have a less-than-honorable discharge, you can either file to upgrade your discharge through the Department of Defense (DoD) or file for a Character of Discharge Review with the VA:
DoD Discharge Upgrade: You can submit new evidence showing errors in your discharge or provide information that reflects changes in policy. You may get an upgrade if you can show that you experienced PTSD, a traumatic brain injury, or military sexual assault or harassment during your military service.
VA Character of Discharge: The VA offers a Character of Discharge Review to determine if your discharge was honorable for VA purposes. You file for this review when you apply for disability benefits. It can be at the same time you are asking for a review from the DoD.
Whichever route you choose, your attorney can help you to complete the proper forms and gather and attach the necessary evidence.
What To Look For in a VA Disability Attorney
The first thing to look for in an attorney is their VA accreditation. You should inquire about their last VA training and whether they are willing to stick with your case through to the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims.
Look into their experience in helping people outside the military get compensation for permanent partial disability or other disability ratings. A history of helping veterans within the VA system is critical, but so is a record of success helping people with similar claims. It demonstrates that the lawyer can gather critical evidence, secure strong witness testimony, and make persuasive arguments that win cases.
How Much Will It Cost To Hire an Attorney for VA Disability?
Attorneys cannot charge fees for helping you file initial claims, except on rare occasions when they must appear in court. During the VA disability appeals process, most lawyers work for a percentage of your past-due benefits if they win your case. The fees charged must be reasonable. An award that does not exceed 20% of past-due benefits is reasonable. Fees that exceed 33 1/3% are unreasonable.
The VA requires a fee agreement signed by you and your attorney that lays out the fees and how they will be paid.
Contact Us To Get Assistance With Your Disability Claim
The VA appeals process can be complicated, and you may need new evidence to support your claim. The skilled attorneys at Commonwealth Law Group have experience helping veterans navigate the VA appeals process and securing disability compensation for veterans and non-veterans alike. If you need help with your VA disability claim, contact us to talk about your case.
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