“There are businesses illegally taking advantage of veterans. Hi, I’m Neil Woods, the president of Woods and Woods. Today, I’m here to talk to you about VA disability scams.
“There are groups out there that claim to be experts and claim to help veterans with their VA disability claims, but they are not accredited, they are not disability advocates, and they are not law firms. They bill themselves as an alternative for veterans to give them help.
“Here’s what they really are — they are claim sharks. There’s actually a bill in Congress right now to address what these companies are doing and to take them out of business. It’s called the GUARD Act. The GUARD Act is going to reinstate criminal penalties for these companies. As soon as this passes Congress, that’ll be the end of them. But until then, they’re going to be very busy taking advantage of veterans.”
What is VA accreditation and why is it important?
“Let’s talk a little bit about what VA accreditation means. First and foremost, the only people that can legally help you with your VA disability claims are people who are accredited by the VA. VSOs are accredited. Law firms are accredited, like here at my law firm. Every attorney that works here is accredited by the VA because we have to be to charge you a fee.
“You can verify if a lawyer or agent is accredited by the VA by searching the VA accreditation index. The Code of Federal Regulations is very clear. Here’s what it states: ‘No individual may assist claimants in the preparation, presentation, and prosecution of claims for VA benefits as an agent or attorney unless they have first been accredited by the VA.’ These regulations were put in place to require accredited representatives, and this was done to protect veterans.
“In fact, I’ve seen a lot of the work that has come out of these groups, because after people use these groups, they come to my law firm to clean up the mess that was made. I look at what was done by these groups, and it’s infuriating. You can’t go to the VA and file a complaint because they’re not accredited. There is no way to hold these groups accountable for screwing up claims.”
How do these companies take advantage of veterans?
“Here’s how their business model works: They sign up as many claims as they can with veterans, they run them through as quickly as they can, and they slop through all of them. They know that they’re going to win just enough of them to turn a very big profit on the backs of disabled veterans.
“You’ll call this company and the company will say, ‘Yes, we’re going to send you contracts, you’re going to get access to the backend of our website, and it’s going to have all these amazing, educational things available to help you win your claim.’ And it’s the same exact stuff that we put on our website for free. It’s all over Google for free, it’s not just our website. It’s the VA’s website, it’s one website after another. So, they’re charging veterans for things that are available on Google.
“The other thing they’re doing is they are charging veterans a percentage of their rating increase. That is blatantly illegal. The VA is very clear: The only way anyone can charge you to help you with your VA disability benefits is by taking a percentage of your back pay.
“If you talk to one of these companies and they say, ‘Hey, yeah. Oh, don’t worry, we’re not going to take any of your back pay. We’re going to charge you just a percentage of your increase.’ Let’s say you go from 50% to 90%. They’re just going to charge that 40%, and it goes on for six times the amount that that the increase was for. That’s illegal.”
Who are these “claim sharks” and how can you spot them?
“I can’t say the name of their companies because that could be defamation, but I want to put the whole list up. Unfortunately, that would be illegal as well.
“But here’s what these claim sharks call themselves, and this is where you need to be really careful. They call themselves veteran consultants, veteran advisors, or VA claim coaches. Those are clear terms they are using to give you the impression that they can actually help you with your claim. They can’t. They can’t legally help you with your claim. They have disclaimers on their websites that they are not accredited. That right there should be a clue to you that this is a scam. They cannot help people with their VA disability benefits because they are not accredited.
“They ask you if you’re logging info into your eBenefits account. That’s illegal. They cannot do that. They are doing this to veterans. They want to go in and look at your rating decisions, because if you don’t provide them with the rating decision, they don’t know what it is. If you never send them a rating decision, they’re never sure of what to actually charge you. So, they try to use these illegal methods like getting into your eBenefits account. It’s just a criminal enterprise, there’s no way around it.
“One of the other ways you can spot these claim sharks is if they’re asking for your banking information. That’s because these groups, when they want to charge you, they want to take a direct deposit right from your bank account. They don’t want to wait for you to write them a check, because you may decide that they didn’t do a good job and you don’t want to pay them.
“They also have confusing payment methods. For example, my law firm has a very simple formula for the way clients pay. We charge you a set percentage of your back pay and case expenses. That’s it. Back pay, case expenses. These companies have these really complex schemes. They charge you based on your rating increase and then they charge you out of your future benefits.
“I want to make this really clear. If you remember anything from this video, it’s this: Anyone that wants to charge you a percentage of your future benefits is committing a crime. It’s illegal. You don’t have to pay them. A court is not going to make you pay them because the contract is ultimately illegal. It is null. It is void. It is no good in the court of law.”
What else to watch out for
“Another way to spot these claim sharks is if they post success rates. Lawyers can’t tell you their success rate. We can’t talk to you about the percentage of claims we win. That is considered unethical. It’s really clear in our in our ethics book.
“These groups don’t have ethics that they have to follow. There is no bar association that they’re operating under. They can tell you things like, ‘Oh yeah, we win 95% of our claims.’ They can use terms like experts and specialize. They use a lot of the words that lawyers are actually not allowed to use. That should be another clue to you that these people are not bound by any ethics rules.
“They’re also charging you for documents and forms. I’m not kidding. They’re charging people to get free forms that come from the VA itself.
“Beware of phone calls and emails from these companies that misrepresent themselves as your attorney. Some of these organizations reach out to my clients and confuse them over who their representative is, hoping to get them to sign these illegal contracts with their organizations. If this happens to you and you’re already working with a law firm, there are a few things you can do. Number one, ask the person on the phone the name of the law firm they’re calling from. Number two, never sign anything with them unless you’re sure it’s your actual VA rep. Number three, if you’re unsure who the person actually is on the phone, hang up, and then look up your law firm’s phone number and call your law firm.”
What to do if you think you’ve been scammed
“Contact the VA. Contact OGC, which is the Office of General Council. The Office of General Council is kind of like the ethics of the VA. If this happens and you have a lawyer, let your law firm know. Let the law firm know the phone number that called you, what time they called, what they said, and make sure they’re aware. In fact, a lot of lawyers out there want to build a legal case against these groups.
“I have clients that come to me and they go, ‘Hey, I did this stupid thing. I signed this contract and here’s what is.’ They send it to me and it’s from one of these non-accredited groups that help veterans. What I’ll do is contact the company and say, ‘Hey, look, you know your contract’s illegal. If you really want to charge my client, let’s go to a court of law.’ And guess what they never do? They never go to court because they don’t want to take their contracts in front of a court of law because they know that judge is going to find the contract illegal.”
“From the day we contacted [Woods and Woods], they made us feel so comfortable. They treated us like we mattered and we were not just clients but family.”
L.B., a Navy veteran and wife in FloridaGoogle review
How do you find reputable help?
“Confirm that who you’re working with is accredited. Like we talked about earlier, you can check the VA accreditation index to figure out who is actually accredited, and who can legally help you with your VA disability claim.
“You can go to VSOs. VSOs are generally accredited, or they should be anyway. VSOs are well meaning, and some of them do a great job. If you have a very simple claim, a VSO is probably going to be fine for you. If you just have a single issue or a tinnitus claim or something like that, go to a VSO. They’re going to do just fine for what you need.
“If you have a very complicated case, if you have different claims and different tracks, if you have multiple service-connected conditions, if you have been denied, or if you are seeking individual unemployability or DIC benefits, that is where I really recommend that you reach out to a law firm. The more complex cases do require a lot more work than just filing a few forms and sending them off to the VA. There’s a lot of evidence gathering. There’s a lot of evidence production. There’s a lot of evidence creation that goes into winning a successful, complex VA disability claim. That’s kind of thing that you’re never going to get from a non-accredited group.
“The other thing is that these non-accredited groups make you do all the work. When you call my law firm, we do the work. We’re the ones requesting the records. We’re the ones sending things into the VA. We’re the ones doing the work for you. These non-accredited groups make you do all the work. They have a claim advisor or an ‘expert’ that helps you, and they give you these handouts and all the stuff, but you still have to do all of the leg work. Then you end up paying them roughly the same amount that an attorney would cost anyway. It just doesn’t make sense for veterans.”
How Woods and Woods can help
“The VA process can be frustrating. It’s complex, and in an ideal world, veterans wouldn’t need a lawyer to get the benefits that they deserve. Unfortunately, we don’t live in an ideal world, and I think it’s very helpful for veterans to contact a law firm and hire them to win their case.
“Here at Woods and Woods, we are guided by very strong ethical standards, and we help veterans get the benefits that they deserve. We only charge a fee after you win your case, and that fee will be a percentage of your back pay and your case expenses. If you don’t win your claim, we don’t charge you a penny.”
VA disability lawyer
Woods and Woods
VA Accreditation Number: 44739