Like any government agency, the VA is mired in complex processes and red tape. But when you have a disability, you need help, and you need it now. You want to make sure to navigate the process correctly to get the highest benefit owed to you in the shortest amount of time. Getting help with veterans’ disability claims from a VA lawyer or a Veterans Service Officer (VSO) can help you do just that. Unfortunately, there are also scammers out there that you should look out for.
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In this article about VA disability lawyers and Veteran Service Officers:
Filing for VA benefits doesn’t always go how you want it to. Perhaps you’re lost in the red tape of your initial application, or you think the VA unfairly denied your claim. You need help. But should you hire a VA lawyer or a VSO? This post explains more about the two options to help you make an informed decision. It also explains how to avoid predatory organizations that may try to represent you.
Why would I hire a VA disability lawyer?
There are many non-attorneys out there willing to help you with your VA claim, which probably makes you wonder why you would choose to hire an attorney. After all, why spend money if someone says they’re willing to help for free? The short answer is that you get what you pay for, and you may need a more sophisticated level of assistance. But there’s a lot more to it than that.
A VA-accredited disability attorney is expected to provide a level of service that not just anyone can.
A VA attorney:
- Knows the law. A VA attorney went to law school to learn the ins and outs of how to represent you well. They know how to maneuver the system to get what you deserve.
- Is bound by ethics. You shouldn’t have to worry about getting scammed or even dealing with bad behavior when you work with a VA attorney. They are bound by the ethical standards of their profession and the ethics and conduct rules of the tribunal where they are licensed to practice.
- Has accountability. A VA attorney is accountable to you as their client through attorney-client privilege, which keeps communications between you, as the client, and your attorney private. They must abide by rules and regulations of professional conduct to obtain and keep their license. That means there is a standard of professional behavior they must uphold.
- Understands the VA. It probably didn’t take you long to recognize that the VA requires you to jump through a lot of hoops to get disability benefits. Failure to provide the right paperwork or appropriately follow the process can result in losing months or years trying to get your claim approved. A VA accredited attorney knows these pitfalls and can guide you through the process in the most expedient way.
- Looks out for you. VA ratings are complex and confusing. For example, they don’t allow you to claim the same symptoms for more than one health concern. And the VA pays more for certain disabilities and allows you to group some illnesses together under certain circumstances for a higher rating, but not others. Did all of that sound complex and difficult to understand? A VA attorney is experienced in navigating the regulations to help you get the maximum amount of compensation you’re owed.
While there are other options for representation, a VA attorney has the professional experience, credentials, and expertise to guide you through the benefit claims process and provide the help you need. They should not make outlandish claims about their “expertise” or promises they can’t keep about what outcomes to expect from your claim. A VA attorney may also charge fees within the legal parameters allowed by the federal government.
Help from a VSO
Veterans Service Officers (who work for Veterans Service Organizations) can help you navigate the benefits process, as well. The VA or another organization trains and certifies them to explain the process and help you follow it. VSOs can help you file and track claims and submit any necessary appeals.
VSOs are well-meaning. They offer many great services to veterans. They don’t charge fees and are there to help you. However, their training in VA disability benefits is limited. They may not be able to answer every question you have and probably haven’t seen as many cases as most VA attorneys.
VSOs also haven’t worked in the legal system like VA attorneys. Therefore they may not have the knowledge of the nuances and processes of the law that attorneys can use to help you.
Further, they don’t have the resources or staff that law firms do. They’re often a single person with a textbook understanding of the process. The VA itself may have trained them on the process, which you may consider a positive or negative.
A VSO is a good option if you need help, but they simply aren’t as credentialed or experienced as an attorney.
How to avoid getting scammed
Either an attorney or a VSO is a legitimate option to help you through the VA disability claims process. They both follow a standard of conduct from the VA.
Unfortunately, there are predatory organizations out there that claim to be helpful legal alternatives for veterans. Some of these organizations or individuals even try to charge veterans exorbitant fees for information that’s readily available for free on the VA’s website. Some of these organizations also do a great deal of advertising, making them look legitimate.
If you want to avoid being scammed while trying to get help, watch for indicators that the organization wanting to represent you is suspicious.
Red flags to watch for:
- Using the term “veteran consultant” or “veteran advisor”
- Asking for log-in info (including your e-benefits account)
- Asking for bank information
- Confusing payment methods
- Disclaimers that refer to a lack of accreditation
- Making promises, especially those that seem too good to be true
- Posting success rates
- Using terms like “experts” or “specialize”
- Charging fees for publicly available documents/forms
If you aren’t sure whether a person or organization is legitimate, you can look them up in the VA’s Accreditation Search Index. The index provides a downloadable list of VSOs, attorneys, and claims agents who follow VA standards in representing veterans. Avoid getting “help” from any person or organization that is not on the list. You can see companies the VFW has named as predatory claim sharks here.
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Getting help from Woods and Woods
If you decide to hire a VA attorney, Woods and Woods is here to help you. Woods and Woods has fought for injured and disabled people since 1985. Our lawyers have represented thousands of veterans in VA cases.
Woods and Woods won’t charge for help with your VA benefits application or ask you to pay upfront for your appeal. We don’t bill by the hour or charge for phone calls. In fact, we don’t charge unless you win your appeal. Our fee is 20% of your back pay and case expenses.
If you’re ready for help from Woods and Woods, let’s have a free VA benefits legal consultation. Get the process started by filling out the online contact form or calling toll-free (866) 232-5777.
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FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Yes, a VSO can assist you in navigating the VA’s process for disability claims and appeals if your claim is denied. However, it’s essential for you to understand that VSOs receive limited training on the disability claims process and don’t have any formal education or certifications.
Yes, it is. A VA lawyer can help you navigate the VA’s process for disability claims and appeals if your claim is denied. VA lawyers have the professional experience, credentials, and resources to guide you through the claims process as quickly and expediently as possible and provide the help you need.