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When handling veterans' disability claims, the question attorneys frequently is, “Why hire an attorney when I can go to a VSO for free?” Attorneys appreciate the efforts of VSOs who help disabled veterans navigate the grueling VA claim process so that their claims are submitted successfully and result in fair ratings. When it makes sense, they refer vets to VSOs.
Regarding disability benefits, they also hear questions circulating among veterans about the whole "attorney Vs. VSO" debate. What's particularly troubling is that veteran claimants can use a free VSO to represent their disability claims.
To clarify this confusion, we would like to take a moment to discuss this and perhaps provide a better understanding.
Before 2007, veterans were effectively prohibited from obtaining legal representation until after they exhausted all their administrative appeals. Many veterans saw this as the federal government purposefully denying them effective representation on their monetary claims. Disabled veterans were largely barred from legal representation despite several attorneys at the government’s disposal. Veterans wished they had access to attorneys when the VA denied their claims unfairly or gave them low ratings.
Many law firms provided pro bono legal services to veterans on an occasional basis before 2007. In law firms, payroll is needed to pay the lights, the paralegals, rent, secretaries, etc. Therefore, these firms might only take on a few cases each year.
A scant caseload barely touched the surface of the medical and legal complexities involved in many VA claims. Veterans could not rely on lawyers who lacked the skills and expertise needed to represent them effectively. Would you be interested in a brain surgeon who did only one or two operations per year?
Congress Changes The Law & Veterans Can Hire Attorneys (2007)
2007 saw the modification of the law preventing veterans from engaging experienced veterans disability lawyers at the urging of veterans and veterans' advocacy groups. The veterans can now hire a qualified lawyer to represent them early. Veterans had access to lawyers who could provide them with the necessary assistance, even in the most complicated cases. As a result, there has been a dramatic increase in veterans successfully obtaining their benefits.
Government Regulates How Much Attorneys Charge Veterans
Veterans Affairs must approve fees. Most veterans disability lawyers are willing to charge a veteran's back benefits a 20% contingency fee. It is an agreement between the lawyer and client that they will work for free until the case is settled. Any veteran with a valid claim can afford to hire a competent attorney.
What do you think about a 20% contingency fee? Based on real-world experience, medical malpractice lawyers charge a 50% contingency fee, car accident attorneys charge a 33%-40% contingency fee, and even SSDI attorneys charge 25%.
Do you think 20% is a bit high if the veterans disability lawyer doesn't do much work? The first problem is that it is difficult to truly grasp how much work a veterans disability lawyer puts into a VA claim. Most of these cases can take a long time to resolve, sometimes even years.
In addition, the lawyer who knows what to do to win the case is priceless. A famous example is an engineer who charged $1000 to turn one screw to fix a critical piece of equipment. He charged $1 for turning the screw but $999 for knowing which screw to turn.
The veteran can contest the amount that the VA withholds as the veterans disability lawyer’s fees if the 20% seems high relative to the attorney's work. Additionally, it gives us an insight into the history of attorney fees in veteran's compensation cases.
Difference Between VSO And Attorney Representation
Veterans have always had free access to a Veterans Service Organization. Yes, the VSO seems to be doing its work for free. Bargains are not always the best deals. It is always worth paying more for higher quality.
Many VSOs do commendable work, but others don't. A VSO representative is a salaried employee who works part-time or full-time. The VA recognizes some Veterans Service Organizations to prepare, present, and prosecute claims under VA laws. However, others are not recognized for these purposes by the VA. All of them are overworked, and none are lawyers that can handle complex veterans' law.
The "unpaid" VSO owes no special duty to the individual veteran and does not have any financial incentive to produce results. Regardless of whether you win your claim, were underrated, or denied entirely, your VSO gets paid. The result of your claim has no financial impact on them. Put simply, you and your VSO are not on the same page.
Having the VA-regulated contingency fee aligns with the interests of the veterans disability lawyer and client. An attorney's duty to their client is absolute. This is what is known as price performance. You must be able to take advantage of the additional value of an attorney if you are going to pay for one.
If you hire any veteran's lawyer, you believe that they can help you obtain a better VA decision about your claim that has been (1) denied or (2) underrated.
A person reviewing an attorney's VA accreditation should do so just as they would in any legal matter. The Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims (CAVC) and the Federal Court System is the final avenues of attack for more complex claims.
- VA appeals are best handled by a VA lawyer with years of experience and a successful track record. If you want to bring a claim there, you need to be a veterans disability lawyer.
- It is imperative that your lawyer thoroughly understands veterans' disability law and actively practices it.
- In addition, the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA) requires the government to cover your legal fees if you hire a CAVC lawyer and win. Thus, the lawyer will not take a lump sum fee from your back pay.
When Command of Complex Veterans Law Is Needed
Claims that are clear and simple are one thing. That is the territory of VSO. There will inevitably be multidimensional and complex claims that require experienced representation.
There are some cases involving significant medical impairments and vocational challenges. Your Total Disability Individual Unemployability (TDIU) claims should reflect the severity of your disabilities to prove your inability to earn a living. A TDIU award is often based on the strength (or lack thereof) of the evidence you provide to the VA.
Additionally, there are claims involving multiple issues, including PTSD, TBI, and military sexual trauma. These issues require a level of skill and expertise that is beyond the reach of VSOs. Veterans' lives are significantly impacted by the decisions issued on these claims.
For Tomorrow’s Veterans
A significant contribution is made when lawyers' collective efforts result in meaningful changes to case law through dogged representation and litigation.
For this very reason, many lawyers pursue VA accreditation; believe it or not, veterans disability lawyers want to increase every future veteran's chances of receiving swift and deserved disability benefits directly from the government without having to fight again.
Is a VA Accredited Attorney Worth It?
Veteran veterans are rightfully frustrated and angry at a VA system that doesn't care for them. It is easy to point the finger at attorneys who play a role in this problem. Generally speaking, accredited veteran veterans disability lawyers are not parasites seeking to swindle veterans. Their mission is to provide our disabled troops with skilled communication and litigation assistance. In that regard, we devote 100% of our efforts.
Applying for Social Security benefits can be an overwhelming process. If you are interested in seeking SSDI benefits, check out our article about the conditions that automatically qualify you for disability benefits. To learn more, visit DisabilityHelp.org today!