Recent issues have been addressing the introduction of attorneys at the initial step of filing a new claim and at earlier stages of a claim submission and disagreement challenge. Up until now, this has been the arena of Veteran Service Officers (VSO) from the various established veteran advocate associations (e.g., DAV, American Legion, PVA, etc. ) as well as various State and County Veteran Assistance Offices. But these very valuable resources are not being used to their full capacity and capability. These VSO are not being used and veterans are attempting to tackle the VA and its claims and submission rules on their own. Because the VA rules are difficult to understand, the VSOs have been trained to assist veterans in the initial step of submitting a claim for disability compensation. Without the help of the VSOs, a veteran's chance of successfully obtaining a claim acceptance is dramatically decreased.
These VSOs do not charge any fee for their services; they are paid from sources separate from the money a veteran receives (or they volunteer). I believe that the unsuccessful claims filed by veterans NOT taking advantage of VSO services has created an illusion that attorneys are needed at the onset of a claim submission. It is the illusion that the veteran needs help at the onset of a claim submission. And that instrument for help already exists. It is the VSOs, who know their way around the VA guidelines for claim submission. The help already exists; it is simply not being used.
It is possible that attorneys could have a role after claims have been denied and the veteran challenges the grounds for that denial. But the challenge of a denied claim occurs at a higher level than the initial claim submission.
The US Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims keeps a list of everyone currently authorized to practice before the court. There is a fairly extensive list of ATTORNEYS (99% of the list), NON-ATTORNEYS and a few Organizations you may never have heard of.... This has nothing to do with this latest move for allowing lawyers to represent vets as the current legislation is contemplating.... These people ALREADY do it! This is important: there are attorneys who CURRENTLY practice before the VA Court of Appeals. I think that sends a message.......
To me it says: These attorneys *might be* really committed to helping veterans because they jumped through the hoops to get themselves recognized as Veteran Advocate Attorneys long ago. Interestingly enough, there has been no mention of this in this latest discussion of allowing attorneys to represent vets [in the later stages of the appeals process] ..... it's already being done, people, by attorneys who have shown some special interest in helping vets.
THIS IS SOMETHING THAT NEEDS TO BE PASSED AROUND AMONG THE VETERAN COMMUNITY. Use the existing VSOs for filing initial claims for disability and use attorneys only after submitting the claim and challenging a denial at the Regional level. If it gets beyond that point, then it's time to call in the attorneys.
Attorneys have been representing Veterans for YEARS in the Court of Appeals process... all they need to do is register with the court. I'm not sure what all that entails, but it can and has been done for a long time. The list available from the US Court of Appeals was last updated April 14, 2006. It is 28 pages long. It breaks out attorneys and non-attorneys by state.
It is available by request from the court. Write to:
US Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims
625 Indiana Avenue, NW, Suite 900
Washington, DC 20004-2950
Does this indicate that there might not be a NEED for opening this privilege to other attorneys? Does this represent that there might be some pre-conditions set for attorneys to *qualify* to represent veterans? I think this need to be laid out on the table for all to see and for some enlightening discussion.
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