Veterans Affairs is targeting unrepresented veterans with claims that are currently in the claims backlog at the St. Petersburg, Fla., and Chicago regional offices. The two initial pilot sites were selected by the VA in part because the ABA’s headquarters is in Chicago and because of the community support for veterans in both cities.
The development of the claim is often the longest part of the process that determines whether a veteran is entitled to VA compensation, often taking more than 200 days. There are 23 million veterans in the United States, and the VA receives 900,000 new claims per year, more than one-third of which are from veterans of the Vietnam era. Claims most suitable for assistance involve incomplete or deficient claims that lack key supporting documents.
“Lawyers fundamentally understand what it takes to assemble evidence and present a persuasive case,” said ABA President James R. Silkenat. “It is a natural fit to engage the legal skills of lawyers with the need of veterans for assistance in making their cases to the VA for disability compensation. The ABA is happy it can assist in expediting the backlogged claims.”
The pilot program will offer pro bono attorney assistance to veterans who do not currently have representation. Once these claims are fully developed by the volunteer attorneys, the VA will provide expedited review and rating of the claims, and the veterans will sooner receive the disability compensation benefits they have earned and deserve.
Election letters will be sent to preselected veterans in early August. Veterans are eligible to participate if they received a mailed letter from Veterans Affairs that explains their ABA VCAN eligibility. These letters include specific codes and release forms that are required to participate. Eligible veterans who choose to participate must contact ABA VCAN with the specified letter code within 15 days of the date on the letter.
Lawyers can volunteer for the program now. VCAN provides attorneys with a unique, limited-scope pro bono volunteer opportunity to help veterans with the preparation and completion of claims for disability compensation benefits currently pending in the VA's case backlog. Veterans Affairs will accredit the attorneys who choose to participate, the ABA and Legal Services Corps will provide them with specialized training, and they will be added to the ABA’s Veterans’ Claims Assistance Network.
Assisting veterans with completion of their claims is a discrete, time-limited volunteer activity, and the volunteers' service will have far-reaching, positive and systemic impacts. Not only will individual veterans served through this program potentially receive benefits more rapidly, but the support provided to the VA by VCAN will supplement the overall delivery of services, reducing the backlog more quickly and benefiting all veterans within the VA system. Lawyers can register to volunteer online at ABAVCAN.org.
Please click here for a biography and photo of James R. Silkenat, president of the American Bar Association.
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