One of the first questions I am often asked by veterans when they call me is whether or not they need an attorney at all.
It’s a very important question that is complicated by the fact that many veterans’ service organizations provide free representation to veterans seeking VA benefits. Some members of these organizations believe that no veteran should ever hire an attorney, when their organization provides similar representation for free. It is true that many service organizations assist veterans in filing claims for free, but the old saying “you get what you pay for” applies.
Prior to 2007, a veteran was not allowed to hire an attorney until the VA had denied the claim multiple times and the veteran had no recourse but to file a lawsuit against the VA. In 2007, the law was amended to give veterans the option of hiring an attorney at any point after the VA had made an initial decision that the veteran isn’t satisfied with (either a denial, or a less than fully favorable Rating Decision).
In fact, attorneys representing veterans tend to charge fairly modest fees. Most attorneys charge a “contingent fee,” a fee paid only if they obtain benefits. While some attorneys charge up to a third of retroactive benefits, our firm, and many others limit our fee to 20% of back benefits. Nothing comes out of current monthly benefits. You will usually be expected to reimburse expenses for items such as medical reports and records, but these expenses tend to be very modest. In all cases, fees may only be charged to a client if and when the Department of Veterans Affairs approves the fee. Therefore, because attorney’s fees are strictly regulated, you can get an experienced veterans benefits attorney at a very affordable cost.
Choosing to hire an attorney provides many benefits that working with a service organization may not. Attorneys are typically highly trained in the law and regulations utilized by the VA to decide claims, and disability lawyers are particularly skilled in gathering and developing the medical and other evidence needed to present a claim in the best possible light. An attorney can also help you prepare for, and attend the hearings before decision review officers and veterans law judges. Perhaps most importantly though, when you hire an attorney you gain another significant advantage: motivation.
This simply cannot be overstated. When you hire a lawyer, in addition to hiring someone with the expertise and training in VA laws and procedures, you’re hiring an ally who is directly impacted not only by wining your case, but by securing the highest possible rating and earliest effective date to which you are entitled. This is not to say that service organizations are not interested in helping veterans win their claims. Most service organizations are staffed by passionate employees (many of whom are also veterans) who want nothing more than to do exactly that. However, without the direct relationship you have with an experienced attorney, you can’t be sure that your representative is going to fight for every last dollar you may be entitled to.
Having an attorney is not an absolute necessity to obtaining VA benefits, but for cases where a veteran has been denied, or received a rating well below what he or she deserves, having a highly motivated, highly experienced veterans law attorney can make a world of difference.