PARKERSBURG, W.Va., Dec. 21, 2012 /PRNewswire/ -- Some veterans and attorneys want the Veterans Administration (VA) disability claims process changed. Advocates believe veterans should have full rights to representation, including the right to enter into an agreement with and attorney to handle their case form beginning to end.
A new 501c (19) non profit organization, vets4fullrepresentation, is being formed to promote this change. Gary Walker, an original founder said, "Attorneys are discouraged from participating in VA claims. If they try to fully represent the veteran for all potential claims issues not yet on appeal, they end up working for free in order to be paid later."
Very few law firms specialize in VA claims because of the way attorneys are compensated. Currently, attorneys only receive nominal reimbursement for expenses incurred until claims are on appeal.
The VA, in understandably dealing with an unprecedented number of new disability claims, has hired more personnel to handle the caseload. As reported by the Associated Press on May 27, 2012, a staggering 45% of the 1.6 million veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are seeking compensation for service-related injuries. The affected veterans are claiming 8 to 9 ailments on average, and one-third have been granted disability so far.
While some veterans use non-profit organizations, such as the VFW or State Veterans Offices to file claims, many prefer the expertise of specialized attorneys because claims can be complex and take years to resolve completely.
Prior to 2007, veterans and attorneys were allowed to enter into voluntary or pro bono agreements. All this changed in 2007 when new federal regulations were implemented. Since 2007, only after a Notice of Disagreement (NOD) is filed on any disability issue can an attorney receive a fee at the administrative level based upon a percentage of the back check due the veteran. Claims can take one to three years for an initial decision. Veterans may need to file multiple claims throughout the appeals process and each one is treated as a new claim. To make matters more complex, veterans may have several claims on different paths of the appeal process at the same time.
The web site, vets4fullrepresentation.com, explains in detail why changes in federal regulation are warranted. Examples are provided and show why attorneys are ethically challenged in this process and how some veterans never receive the full benefits to which they are entitled.
Advocates want full and fair representation for all veterans.