America's Vets: Are Claim Procedures Unfair?
WASHINGTON and CHARLESTON, W.Va., Nov. 11, 2013 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- America's veterans face more than their share of issues. From defense budgets to uniforms, everything seems to be controversial. I'll add one more to the list.
Few disagree that veterans who suffer service-related disabilities should be compensated fairly. Unfortunately, the system is ill-prepared to handle the process for compensation claims. The Department of Veterans Affairs presently has 4.4 million cases being processed. Nearly one half of veterans returning from the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts have at least one war-related disability, some up to eight or nine. Do you know many Second World War veterans have already died without filing claims? There's not many Korean War veterans left either. Vietnam veterans are dying at a rapid rate due to Agent Orange; and Gulf War veterans have multiple environmental disabilities from the Gulf Theatre.
These veterans are in need of pursuing ongoing claims and filing new claims as well. Sadly, veterans while pursuing their long claims process for disabilities don't have incomes during this period risking their property, their credit rating and, in fact, their livelihood. VA law prevents attorneys' compensation for any new claim until there is a new appealed decision. If the decision results in a favorable grant, the attorney receives compensation out of the past due benefits. Prior to 2007 an attorney was only allowed a $10 fee for the entire claim at the administrative level since the Civil War. Since 1990 attorneys can receive compensation at the new U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans' Claims. The veteran was not allowed to appeal a claim to any Court prior to 1990. A $10 fee for an entire claim at the administrative level did discourage attorneys from participating in the VA claims process in the past. Veterans that received inadequate representation from a state or veterans' organization representative did not have the alternative to hire an attorney.
For decades, veterans received free representation from these veterans' organizations and state representatives paid by the organizations or various states. Veterans have mixed reviews and weren't always satisfied with these traditional representatives. Some of the veterans' organizations oppose attorney participation in the VA claims process legislatively, and at the same time they solicit for donations, highlighting their free representation and receive taxpayer funding for the same representative programs. Veterans are short-changed by the limitations imposed on attorneys' full representation of veterans. Veterans end up representing themselves, have multiple representatives, and if the representation by the veterans' organization or state representative is inadequate; the veteran still has nowhere to turn for assistance.
An appealed claim is only a part of a veteran's entire claim. Allowing attorneys to only be compensated for claims on appeal creates all other kinds of unanticipated problems for the veteran and ethical problems for the attorney. It's fair to say, "free" is the best alternative for a veteran when "free" has good results. But, when "free" is inadequate and results in nightmares for the veteran and no other alternatives, "free" is not good. Claims have been turned away, missed or failed to be reopened based on new evidence or worsening conditions, and new, ongoing, or secondary claims have not been filed. Also, veterans have been told by their traditional representatives not to appeal the claims; they may be reduced. Veterans' have been told to file one issue at a time; don't get the VA mad. Although, many veterans have been satisfied by their representatives; others have complained about this kind of representation for years and/or for their representative being judgmental and having communication problems.
What can be done?
As a high school dropout, I received my education through the VA system and went through the claims process myself after being blinded in combat in Vietnam. I became an attorney in 1981 and have represented veterans for years. Currently in good conscious, I could only assist veterans in one way. I represent the veteran with all of his claims from start to finish. That means I agree to work for free on any claim that has not been appealed. I currently do not receive compensation for most of the favorable grants a veteran receives because I assist veterans in a manner in which I believe is the right way by addressing missed claims, secondary claims, reopening claims based on new evidence, worsening condition claims, ongoing claims with common etiology, Unemployability, and new claims has they happen; and I do not just sit back and do the easy thing to do: address only the issues that are on appeal. If I can't financially survive doing claims this way, I will not accept any new claims. I believe I will survive because I believe in karma: what goes around comes around.
I, David Huffman, Esquire and other concerned veterans that agree that veterans need a choice of representation from start to finish, free or paid; need a bigger voice about the entire claims process and medical care. We also want to assist other veterans by other means and have applied for a 501(c) 19 veterans membership organization, Vets For Full Representation, Inc. (VFFR, Inc.). Check it out. Join. Learn about it. Contribute if you can. Visit www.vets4fullrepresentation.com or call 855-373-1189.
VFFR is encouraging veterans, their families and supporters to contact their Congressional representatives to support legislation to allow veterans' access to legal counsel from "start to finish" so veterans can have the representation of choice that meets their needs. It's not fair for a veteran to wait two years for any claim in order to receive the representation of their choice. Early favorable grants may help with unclogging the VA system tied up in years of appealed claims.
Note: I have assisted many veterans with claims they've been fighting for years with their traditional representatives. In addition, many of these veterans have asked other attorneys for representation and were told to come back after their claims are filed and on appeal. I believe this is sad.