If you’ve ever asked yourself if you really need to hire a VA-accredited lawyer, you’re not alone. It’s a question many veterans struggle with, particularly those who are financially insecure and want to save as much money as possible while pursuing benefits. The choice between working with someone who has VA attorney accreditation, going it alone or hiring someone less qualified can make all the difference. This decision will ultimately rely on factors that are unique to you. But the truth is, there are important reasons to hire a lawyer with VA attorney accreditation, even if you think you can’t afford to do so.
What Is VA Attorney Accreditation?
Any lawyer can say that they can help you file the appropriate paperwork and pursue benefits from the VA. But not all lawyers have the right qualifications to navigate the VA’s specific claim requirements.
Federal law dictates that anyone assisting a veteran in the preparation, presentation and prosecution of an initial claim for veterans benefits requires accreditation authority from the Department of Veterans Affairs. (38 USC§ 5901). There is an exception to this: A person may assist someone one time, and one time only, without VA attorney accreditation.
The VA also stipulates that anyone in an attorney’s office who works on a VA claim must have this accreditation. Basically, a lawyer cannot solicit business by claiming VA accreditation only to farm the work out to someone else.
There are important reasons you want to work with a VA-accredited lawyer rather than someone who hasn’t earned accreditation. These reasons include:
- The ability to work directly with the VA
- Filing the proper paperwork on time
- Knowing exactly how much it will cost you
VA-Accredited Lawyers Know How to Deal with the VA
Like all other entities, the VA has a specific set of requirements that you must meet for a successful claim. This includes paperwork that’s often confusing to understand and complete. It also includes understanding government language that’s specific to VA-related claims.
A VA-accredited lawyer already knows both the benefits paperwork and the process to file for benefits. This reduces the amount of time it takes to file a claim or an appeal. In addition, it means filing the correct forms and medical paperwork every time. What’s more, appealing an unfavorable decision is not something vets should do on their own. Lawyers with VA attorney accreditation have an excellent track record of winning the most claim appeals.
Why You Cannot Currently Visit Some VA Offices On Your Own
There’s another important reason to work with a lawyer who has VA attorney accreditation. Right now, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, all VA offices remain closed to the public. This means you cannot walk into an office and file claim forms on your own.
This leaves you to try to navigate all necessary forms online, and without guidance from someone who knows them well. In the past, talking with someone at the VA office might at least be the first step in filing your claim. Until things change, that cannot happen. And because phone lines often make it impossible to speak to a person right away, working with a VA-accredited attorney is vital.
How the Government Might Pay Your Legal Bill As a Veteran
If the VA denies your initial claim and you file a successful appeal, they may owe you much more than benefits. In fact, the government may be legally required to pay your lawyer’s fees. This is because the Congress passed the Equal Access to Justice Act to protect veterans fighting for benefits.
However, like all other laws and statutes, the Equal Access to Justice Act has very specific requirements that must be met in order to be awarded. A VA-accredited attorney understands these requirements and can work in a timely fashion to meet each stipulation. This means there’s a better chance of you recouping money you should not have had to pay in the first place.
Moreover, an attorney with proper accreditation can ensure you receive all the benefits the VA owes you. Current VBA data shows the VA makes mistakes while reviewing 1 of every 10 initial applications. This means that at least 10% of veterans don’t receive all the benefits they deserve. A VA-accredited attorney can make that appeal at no cost to you. That’s because if you win additional benefits on appeal, the Equal Access to Justice Act stipulates that the government pay those attorney fees, not you.
How Lawyers With VA Attorney Accreditation Receive Payment
The Veteran’s Administration is very specific about how and when a VA-accredited lawyer can receive payment for their work. In fact, an accredited attorney may charge fees only after an original jurisdiction agency (for example, a VA regional office):
- Issues a decision on a claim, or
- Filed a notice of disagreement, and
- Your attorney files a power of attorney and fee agreement with VA.
The VA attorney accreditation process is intended to protect veterans from unethical representatives who claim to be experts, but really aren’t. One of the ways veterans are protected is by regulating the fees VA-accredited lawyers are allowed to charge.
Why Having a Qualified Attorney Benefits You
Hiring a VA-accredited lawyer can help you navigate both your initial claim and any appeals that might be necessary. All lawyers with VA attorney accreditation work on contingency, so you pay $0 for legal assistance unless your case wins. And if you do win, then you’ll only pay a small, one-time fee. However, if your case involves an appeal after the VA initially denied you benefits, then you may pay $0 as well. that’s because the EAJA may require the VA to cover all your legal fees.
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.