If you’ve been denied a VA Service Connected Disability claim, you have several options open to you!
Depending on who you talk to you may not be aware or understand all the options you have. On the other hand, it’s very possible someone hasn’t told you all your options on purpose. There is a significant difference between VA Accredited and just someone helping out.
This is going to be a brief on your options. We will lay it out for you, with candor, the benefits and drawbacks of each option. As we cover the options, it’s important for you to realize that your claim is yours.
At the end of the day, you’re going to be the person most benefited by good representation or most harmed by bad.
Generally speaking, you have five options when facing a denial for your service connected disability claim.
First: Go it Alone
The process of representing yourself through the VA Service Connected Disability appeals process is possible. There is a wealth of knowledge available online to help you in understanding the fundamentals. If you’re quick on the uptake, even the more advanced issues of process & hearings are something you can work through. However, be cautious about jumping straight in on this. The big risk you face by going it alone is inadvertently harming your own appeal. You could do this through your lack of knowledge and experience in the appeals process, and you can do it through dozens of other means.
We should note that of your options, this is probably the least advisable in the general context. But if you are familiar with claims processes, Veterans issues, the VA itself, you could certainly do well at a Board of Veterans Appeals (BVA) hearing.
And to add in another cautionary note about this method; depending on your claim, by being able to represent yourself well, you might hamstring your appeal. If, for example, you are appealing that you should be 100% PTSD / TDIU and you are able to represent yourself well in a number of stressful situations. A judge may view this as inconsistent with your claimed symptoms, and because of this… deny your appeal.
Second: Get help from a Friend
VA regulations allow for anyone to assist another Veteran, at least once, in developing a claim for appeal. So you might still be in luck if you know someone who isn’t VA accredited but for some reason they REALLY know the system well. Having a friend represent you or help you closely in representing yourself is a viable option. If your friend knows what they are doing.
Third: Retain a Veterans Service Officer (VSO)
You can engage a Veterans Service Officer (VSO). VSO’s are trained by their organization which is accredited by the VA. By being part of the accredited organization they are seen as VA Accredited themselves. However, the quality of VSO’s vary wildly from superb to extraordinarily sub-par. The reasons for this come down to initial training, supervision, funding, ongoing training, and personal factors.
If you choose to pursue this course, you need to remember that you can change representatives at any time you choose. Interview several VSO’s and work with someone who YOU get along with. You will be wanting to have a good relationship with your VSO when hiccups arise in your appeal (they likely will). More importantly, you want your VSO to be able to speak with knowledge about your specific claim. If the appeal requires a hearing in front of a Board of Veterans Appeals (BVA) judge, a VSO with deep knowledge of your history and claim is priceless.
The cost of this option is, free.. In some cases you’re going to be getting a great value, in others you’ll be getting what you paid for. Shop around until you find a VSO you like, or consider options 4 & 5 below.
Fourth: Retain a VA Accredited Claims Agent.
VA Accredited Claims Agents are non-attorney, non-VSO representatives. They are accredited through the VA Office of the General Counsel after having passed a background check and a test on VA Law and processes. Claims Agents, like attorneys, are authorized to collect a fee for their representation (20%). The fee is collected only when an appeal is decided on the Veterans behalf. And the fee is deducted directly from the Veteran’s award. It is paid directly to the Agent by the VA so the Veteran never cuts a check from their own pocket. Instead the fee is subtracted from the award and the Veteran receives a diminished back-pay award.
One big downside to VA Claims Agents is that there are few of them. Moreover, they are often accredited so that they can provide financial advice for Veterans in elder law & pension planning situations. Many of them don’t represent Veterans in disability claims and appeals.
Fifth: Retain a VA Accredited Attorney
Lastly, you can bring in an attorney to help you with your appeal claim. Like Claims Agents, Attorneys too are accredited through the VA Office of the General Counsel. But this is where things are slightly different. Attorneys don’t necessarily have to know anything about Veterans or Veterans issues to gain their initial VA accreditation.
Many attorneys appear to represent Veterans, but in reality do not and/or have not. In many cases, even though they will show up in the Accreditation Search by the VA, they are involved in other forms of law.
Again! Choose your representative wisely. You want to work with an attorney that has a caseload of Veterans already. They should be able to quickly and casually speak to various issues involved in pursuing a VA claims appeals. You don’t just want any attorney, you want an attorney that knows how to advocate in disability law, AND in VA Law.
There are several key benefits in working with a VA Accredited Attorney..
Attorneys that practice a lot of VA & Social Security Law often have a rock-solid internal process setup. Claims don’t “get lost” when a good firm is working on them.
Law firms have a financial motivation to win an appeal. This can cut both ways, it does mean that they may not take every case, but it also means that if they take your case they believe they have a strong chance of succeeding in the appeal and will make every effort to do so.
If your case is determined against you, you’ve already built a relationship with an attorney that can represent or refer you for a further appeal before the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims (CAVC).
In our next article we go more in-depth as to why you’d want to work with an attorney, a VSO, or a Claims Agent.
UPDATE: Read the next article here
Lilac City Law advocates on behalf Veterans in appeals for Service Connected Disability Benefits
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