Hiring a Veterans Disability AttorneyUpdated April 11, 2020 Veterans Disability
Can Veterans disability lawyers help?
According to data from the VA, veterans disability lawyers can improve your chances of winning on appeal. According to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals data, veterans appealing in 2011 with no representation had 36% of their appeals denied. Veterans with attorneys had 18% of their appeals denied.
Each situation is unique, and some cases can be better helped by attorneys than others. Here are some of the areas where attorneys experienced in helping veterans with disability claims can provide assistance.
Knowing the law and complex regulations
The VA has to work with complex laws and regulations when it reviews claims. Very high error rates show that even the VA itself has trouble correctly understanding and applying these rules. The VA admits to an error rate of 14% on disability claims. The Center for Investigative Reporting analyzed a group of those claims and found the percentage of mistakes was closer to 38%.
Experienced attorneys know the laws and regulations. All veterans disability lawyers must be accredited by the VA. To maintain their accreditation, they are required to stay current on the laws and procedures by taking continuing legal education courses.
Building a strong case
Lawyers are skilled at building cases, by maximizing all available evidence to prove your case meets the requirements. If the VA denied your claim because it said there was no evidence, or the evidence you presented was not sufficient, an attorney can help you prove your condition and/or its connection to your military service.
Attorneys who work in this area will have skilled investigators who know how to track down records. If your case is hard to prove simply with available records, attorneys know how to demonstrate facts in other ways. Opinions from medical experts can help bolster your claim for physical or mental illness; statements from witnesses can help prove the accident was related to your military service. No attorney can guarantee you will win, but they can make it harder for the VA to deny your claim and easier to assign the appropriate disability rating.
Handling challenging claims
Some types of claims are simply difficult to prove, or may be viewed less favorably by the VA. Mental illness is one of these. The VA has a history of underestimating mental health conditions resulting from military service. Only recently, in 2010, did the DVA relax its evidence requirements to prove post-traumatic stress disorder.
Even though recognition of PTSD is improving – problems still remain. Disability claims by veterans for conditions related to mental illness continue to be commonly misunderstood and under-valuated. If the VA sends you to one of their doctors for diagnosis, they may not be trained to correctly diagnose the existence and severity of mental health conditions. Even if the condition is correctly diagnosed, the VA may rate it lower than it should be rated.
While the VA deals in generalities, attorneys provide personalized attention to your case. Their entire goal is to get you the proper benefits you deserve for the condition you are suffering.
May reduce delays
Attorneys can’t actually make the appeal process itself work any faster. However, experienced attorneys can help gather all initial evidence and documentation more quickly and get the appeal process started more quickly; they can also reduce the turnaround time it takes to respond to requests for more information. In some cases, they may spot errors early in the process that can eliminate even more delay. Shaving off a few weeks or months at every point throughout your appeal can really add up.
If you’re wondering how you can afford to hire an attorney, most Veterans disability lawyers take cases on a contingency basis — which means they only get paid on the contingency that you win your appeal.
How much does a VA disability attorney cost?
Most VA disability attorneys work on a contingency basis, so they only get paid if you win on appeal. Learn about free consultations and what questions to ask to find the right attorney for you.
The use of a VA disability attorney is regulated by the Department of Veterans’ Affairs. All attorneys who assist veterans with disability claims must be accredited by the VA, and the VA reviews all fee agreements. The VA has the authority to regulate conduct of attorneys who represent veterans, to provide the veteran some assurance that s/he will not be taken advantage of.
You may have heard about the old law, which only allowed an attorney or agent to work for hire after the Board of Veterans’ Appeals issued a first final decision on a claim. The law has since been changed to give veterans the right to hire attorneys anytime after they file a Notice of Disagreement on the case.
Payment made on contingency
A VA disability attorney does not charge hourly rates to represent veterans on appeal. Most cases are taken on a contingency basis, which means they only get paid on the contingency that you win on appeal. If you get an award for back pay, which includes an award for higher benefits, the attorney receives a percentage of that award as their fee.
If you lose your appeal, the lawyers do not get paid. That is the risk they run when taking cases on a contingency basis.
Copies of fee agreements to be filed with the VA
A copy of every fee agreement between a VA claimant and an accredited attorney must be filed with the Office of the General Counsel within 30 days of its execution. This is because the DVA is authorized to review the expenses and fees that are charged in connection with claims for disability benefits.
Federal rules give the DVA authority to order a reduction in attorney fees charged to veterans if they are found to be “excessive or unreasonable.” The rule further states that “a fee that does not exceed 20 percent of the past due amount of benefits awarded on the claim will be presumed to be reasonable;” consequently, most attorneys experienced in this area will charge close to 20%.
You may be asked to pay some small out-of-pocket expenses, for items such as costs to obtain copies of records. You can discuss these fees with your lawyer.
How do I find an attorney?
All attorneys who represent veterans in their disability appeals are required to be accredited by the VA. According to the VA, “Accreditation means the authority granted by VA to assist claimants in the preparation, presentation, and prosecution of claims for benefits.”
Accreditation is not required for a general consultation about what benefits a veteran might be eligible for. If you know an attorney who is trying to help you out for free, with general advice, that’s one thing. But when you actually go to file your appeal, the attorney must be accredited. This is not only a requirement of the DVA, but it also ensures that your money is spent on someone qualified to practice in this area.
Accredited attorneys are approved to practice before the Department of Veterans Affairs. The DVA checks that they are authorized to practice law and in good standing with their state bar. The DVA can regulate the conduct of accredited attorneys, and does require them to keep abreast of developments in the law and procedures by taking annual education courses.
While at a minimum you must hire an attorney who is accredited, you also want to find an attorney who is well experienced in handling veterans’ disability appeals. You will want to do your own investigation into the attorneys’ background. Most attorneys will provide a free consultation, and during that time, you may want to ask questions like:
- “How much of your practice is devoted to work with veterans disability?”
- “Can you tell me some examples of cases you’ve handled for vets similar to mine?”
- “What other involvement does your firm have with veterans’ issues – are you members of any associations in this area?”
Be leery of anyone who makes you grand promises. Each case is unique and no one can predict exactly the outcome of your appeal. Select someone you feel will give your case the personal attention it needs. The bottom line anytime you hire an attorney should be to find someone you trust.