The short answer to this question is yes: the Veteran’s Administration (VA) provides free lawyers for veterans in two ways. The first is through free legal assistance via its clinics. The second is via a roster of independent attorneys who offer both pro-bono and paid legal services specifically for veterans.
Like all legal questions, however, there are caveats. There are also important considerations about whether free lawyers or the VA’s legal assistance can give you the best advice. The truth is, while free advice from the VA sounds good, it can also leave you without the zealous representation you’d receive if you hired a VA-accredited lawyer to work on your behalf. Just because an organization offers a free service doesn’t mean it’s the best one for you.
Whether a VA-accredited attorney that doesn’t work for the VA offers pro-bono services is a bigger, more complex question. After all, some attorneys do offer pro-bono services — meaning they work for free, regardless of the outcome. Most attorneys, however, do not work for free. Specifically, VA-accredited attorneys work on a contingency basis. This means they are not free but earn $0 in legal fees if you don’t win your case.
The VA created rules around what a VA-accredited lawyer can and cannot do for you. These rules also outline how much your attorney can earn. This article won’t focus on everything a VA-accredited lawyer can help you with, however. Instead, we’ll focus on how a VA-accredited lawyer can help you get benefits due to you as a veteran.
The decision to retain a lawyer is always a personal one based on your unique circumstances. However, there are clear reasons to hire an attorney with VA accreditation to work on your behalf. Below, we’ll highlight three of the most important reasons.
Reason #1: Free Lawyers for Veterans Earn Their Fees Through a Contingency Clause
When a lawyer works on contingency, it means they agree to work on your case until they reach an outcome. They do this work without taking any money in fees unless you win. This means an attorney will work on your behalf and wait for payment until after you get a settlement that pays you, too. If you don’t get benefits, the lawyer receives $0 in payment. This also means the attorney will keep track of their out-of-pocket expenses and deduct those from your settlement award, rather than expecting you to pay them as they accrue, as would happen in a typical attorney/client relationship.
This means that not only will you not have to pay any legal fees while your case proceeds, but your attorney only receives payment when you get a settlement. The bigger your benefit award, the more your lawyer earns. For this reason, your lawyer will pursue all available benefits, resulting in a potentially higher benefit package for you. To make sure any fees you owe remain fair, the VA stipulates that all fees must be reasonable, and caps the amount that a lawyer can charge.
Reason #2: VA-Accredited Lawyers Know Which Laws are On Your Side
As of this writing, free clinics are not operating on-site at VA facilities due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, you can access help via phone and email. But what happens if you don’t know which questions to ask? Or how to fill out the appropriate forms? What if you don’t know where to start, or who to talk to about your appeal? Just like other legal matters, you must still meet deadlines even when clinics aren’t open and in-person help isn’t available. In almost every instance, the VA has a limit on how long you can take before filing paperwork vital to your case.
A VA-accredited lawyer can help you no matter where you are in the process of applying for benefits. They can also help you if appeal a prior decision. The VA processed more than three million claims during the past three fiscal years. As of July 31, 2021, the VA’s backlog held 185,600 pending claims. Worse, its three-month claim-based accuracy stands at 89%. While this might seem like a high enough accuracy level, that means the VA assigns more than 1 in 10 vets the wrong rating or otherwise makes mistakes in reviewing their benefit claims.
Reason #3: If the VA Denied You Benefits, Free Lawyers for Veterans Can Help You Appeal
The Board of Veteran’s Appeals (BVA) falls under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims (CAVC). This is the body that reviews claim appeals. Before establishing the CAVC in 1988, the VA was sheltered from judicial review. That means if the VA denied your benefits claim, then that was the end of your case. You had no option to appeal.
Because President Reagan signed the Equal Access to Justice Act during his tenure, veterans now have the right to appeal. To do so, however, requires the same work as most other legal matters. In other words, conferences, research, and a working understanding of the intricacies of laws and legislation that affect your appeal. This may seem overwhelming for even the most astute pro-se appellant. Hiring an attorney can increase the odds of winning your appeal.
Get Legal Assistance Fighting the VA
Hiring a VA-accredited lawyer can help you navigate both your initial claim and any appeals that might be necessary. VA-accredited lawyers work on a contingency basis, so you pay $0 for legal assistance if you don’t win benefits. And if you win, then you’ll only pay a small, one-time fee. And remember: With the EAJA, free lawyers for veterans can help you appeal a denied claim at no cost to you. Get connected with a local attorney today!
Ready to see if you may qualify? Complete your free online veterans benefits evaluation now!
Lisa Allen is a writer and editor who lives in suburban Kansas City. She holds MFAs in Creative Nonfiction and Poetry, both from the Solstice Low-Residency Program in Creative Writing at Pine Manor College. Prior to becoming a writer, Lisa worked as a paralegal, where she specialized in real estate in and around Chicago.