Veterans of the past, present, and future are among our families, friends, and coworkers. Yet, many attorneys will forget to ask their clients if they have a record of military service and to explore potential benefits when weighing the clients’ options. Even more attorneys forget to ask if an immediate family member, such as a spouse or parent, has served. The possible benefits to the veteran range from pensions, service-connected disability benefits, and other incentives offered through programs like the GI Bill. If you’re thinking about helping veterans pursue those benefits with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), here are the top 10 things you’ll need to know to get started on the right foot.
1. Accreditation is required. If any person is going to assist claimants in the preparation and pursuit of claims for benefits, then pursuant to 38 C.F.R. 14.627(a), that person must be accredited by the VA.
2. Getting accredited is simple. Fill out the VA application Form 21a and send it to: Department of Veterans Affairs, Office of General Counsel (022D), 810 Vermont Avenue NW, Washington, D.C. 20420. The response time is about 30–60 days. It takes 3.0 hours per year of continuing education related to the VA to maintain accreditation.
3. Do not charge for assistance on applications for benefits. You are helping a soldier (or his spouse or dependent) of the armed forces of the United States of America obtain benefits rightly earned. That honor is the reward in of itself, and the VA agrees. Attorneys cannot charge fees for the filing of claims with the VA. However, fees can be charged upon the receipt of a denial and when initiating an appeal.
4. All appeals fee agreements must be filed with the VA. All fee agreements must be filed within 30 days of representation. If the attorney is seeking disbursement directly from the VA, then the fee cannot exceed 20 percent, and anything more than 33 1/3 percent is considered unreasonable.
5. Don’t wait to apply. The backlog of VA claims and the number of claimants continue to grow, and the wait for benefits is an average of six months.
6. Help veterans and their families maximize the support available. Veterans may be eligible to receive multiple benefits, including: pensions, service-connected disability benefits, home purchase assistance, life insurance, small business help, educational assistance, vocational rehabilitation, and employment.
7. Post 9/11 GI Bill changes are very important to the many veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan and transitioning back to non-military life. These veterans face many challenges reintegrating into a civilian lifestyle and will need to utilize all the resources available to adjust and thrive.
8. Recent changes in PTSD claims rules will permit less corroboration by redefining evidentiary requirements. This will open up claims that were likely to have been denied under the old requirements. The VA is working hard to educate on and combat this condition faced by many veterans.
10. For more information, go the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and review 38 C.F.R. Make sure to arm your veteran client with as much knowledge as possible about the wealth of support opportunities available. You will also find the VA has a blog and is very active on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter.