Veterans injured in the line of duty enjoy access to a variety of disability benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs to facilitate their recovery and ensure their household’s financial stability. However, the VA claims system involves intricate bureaucratic procedures and requirements, which may increase the amount of time veterans wait to receive a fair disability rating.
That is why the Department of Veterans Affairs permits claimants to hire a veterans disability benefits lawyer to assist them at all stages of the appeals process. In order to make a fully informed decision about when or whether to contract a VA-accredited representative, it is crucial to understand the VA guidelines for legal representation, associated costs and repayment plans, and the advantage of retaining counsel for the appeals process.
At Dolman Law Group, PA, we honor the sacrifice veterans make for the defense of our country and believe that they should have access to the advice and counsel of qualified veteran claims lawyers. For more information about the eligibility and strength of your claim, contact us today at (727) 451-6900.
Table of contents
- VA Accreditation for Veterans Disability Benefits Lawyers
- Legal Representation for VA Disability Benefits Claims
- Appealing a VA Disability Benefits Claim with Legal Representation
- Legal Fees for Veterans Claims Lawyers
- Available Disability Benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs
- Why Choose Dolman Law for Your VA Disability Benefits Claim
- Contact Dolman Law Group for Help with Your VA Disability Benefits Claim
VA Accreditation for Veterans Disability Benefits Lawyers
Making the decision to seek legal representation for the VA disability claims process can be daunting but many do not realize that there are also many rules regarding the employment of a veterans' liability claim lawyer. The Department of Veterans Affairs maintains strict and complex guidelines for the employment of legal representatives for the “preparation, presentation, and prosecution” of disability benefits claims.
Most importantly, the Department requires that legal representatives possess accreditation from the VA. This important provision ensures that veteran claimants have access to qualified and knowledgeable representatives. It also deters otherwise fraudulent actors from misleading and overcharging claimants for illicit services.
The VA’s Office of General Counsel (OGC) oversees the accreditation process and maintains a directory of accredited agents which it cross-references with claimants’ proposed counsel. If a claimant intends to rely upon an unaccredited actor for assistance, the OGC reserves the right to reject the proposal.
Legal Representation for VA Disability Benefits Claims
The Department of Veterans Affairs distinguishes between generic legal assistance and proper representation in the claims process. The distinction determines whether veterans' claims lawyers can charge for their services.
Although VA-accredited representatives are authorized to assist veterans in the preparation and filing of an initial claim, they are expressly prohibited from charging for their preliminary aid. Claims lawyers are permitted to charge for their services only after a VA agency of original jurisdiction (AOJ) has issued an unfavorable decision that a claimant wishes to appeal through a notice of disagreement (NOD).
At this point in the claims process, claimants should file VA Form 21-22a, which informs the Department of their intention to contract a legal representative for appeals.
Appealing a VA Disability Benefits Claim with Legal Representation
The VA disability benefits appeals process is notoriously complex and protracted. There are multiple levels at which an unsatisfied claimant can appeal their case, and average VA wait times vary from 3 months to 2 years.
Consequently, it is imperative that claimants have access to a diverse set of accredited representatives with whom to devise a cogent and intelligent strategy for success. Although many veterans report feelings of frustration and disillusionment while attempting to seek fair disability ratings, our veterans' disability claims lawyers are determined to alleviate the burdensome requirements and facilitate the intricate proceedings of the VA appeals system, including:
Filing Veterans' Supplemental Claims
One of the commonest outlets through which to appeal an insufficient disability rating is to file a Supplemental Claim (SC). These submissions enable claimants to provide the Department of Veterans Affairs with additional information and documentation, including:
- Medical records
- Service records, like DD-214s
- “Buddy statements”
For claimants who failed to establish a service connection or whose initial disability rating was incommensurate with the severity of their condition(s), SCs provide an opportunity to substantiate an initial claim.
However, collecting additional evidence may prove both time-consuming and complicated. With the assistance of a veterans claim lawyer, claimants can better pinpoint the deficiencies in their initial claim and more strategically determine the kind of subsequent evidence to file with an appeal.
Higher-Level Review Requests
In contrast to Supplemental Claims, requesting a Higher Level Review precludes the submission of additional evidence. This is a common option for veteran claimants who believe that a lower-level AOJ mistook or misjudged a compelling initial or supplemental claim.
With an average wait time of 125 days, Higher Level Review requests enable veterans to submit a written statement identifying the errors of a former decision and schedule an informal phone conference with the reviewer assigned to the case. Importantly, claimants can include their representatives in the informal conference to advocate on their behalf.
Board of Veterans Appeals (BVA)
The Board of Veterans’ Appeals is the penultimate body within the VA appeals system. Claimants can appeal directly to the BVA after an insufficient or denied initial claim, Supplemental Claim, or Higher-Level Review.
However, they have three options from which to choose:
- Direct Review
- Evidence Submission
- Hearing with VA Magistrate
At this point, veterans' claims lawyers can guide claimants' decision-making and represent them before a Veterans Law Judge in an official hearing.
U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims (CAVC)
The highest body of authority in the VA appeals process is the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, located in Washington, D.C. Claimants can appeal to the CAVC only after receiving an unsatisfactory decision from the BVA.
For the in-person or virtual hearings, veterans can request their VA-accredited representative to prosecute their claims and persuade the presiding judges of the errors of lower-body decisions. Although an unsuccessful result from the CAVC does not preclude veterans from submitting subsequent SCs or appeals, participating in a hearing likely comes after years of waiting.
Consequently, the services and assistance of a veteran claim lawyer can increase the likelihood of receiving an appropriate disability rating and conclude a lengthy and often exhausting process.
Legal Fees for Veterans Claims Lawyers
When determining whether to acquire legal representation, veteran claimants should consider the matter of compensation for disability benefits lawyers. The VA only permits accredited representatives to charge for legal fees once a claimant initiates the appeals process.
In an initial consultation with one of Dolman Law’s VA-accredited lawyers, we can explain the repayment plan that we employ and the case-by-case factors that influence our contingency fees.
Contingency-Fee Repayment Plans for Disability Benefits Claims
Pursuant to Title 38 of the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations, the reasonable and acceptable rates at which claims attorneys can charge for their services typically range from 20 to 33%. It is customary for legal representatives to structure their repayment on a contingency fee basis, which means that claimants don’t pay unless they receive a satisfactory decision from the VA.
The legal fees are deducted from the retroactive payments a claimant receives upon the resolution of their claim. The VA calculates the backpay figure by determining the amount in compensation a claimant would have received from the effective date to the conclusion of their claim.
The Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA) and the VA Claims Process
Ratified in October 1980, the Equal Access to Justice Act became applicable to the VA disability benefits system after congressional approval in 1992. Effectively, it enables veterans and their representatives to seek repayment from the government for legal fees associated with a CAVC hearing.
Although the use of federal funds is not mandatory, many claimants and their VA-accredited lawyers accept the payouts, which often exceed the contingency fee figure. However, the amount in EAJA compensation that representatives accept is deducted from the total contingency fee figure.
Available Disability Benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs
VA disability benefits are designed to provide crucial financial assistance to veteran claimants whose service-connected injuries have diminished their earning potential, financial stability, and well-being. Contingent on the assigned disability rating, veterans have access to a diverse group of disability packages, including:
- Total Disability Individual Unemployability (TDIU)
- Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC)
- Special Monthly Compensation (SMC)
- Specially Adapted Housing Grants
Why Choose Dolman Law for Your VA Disability Benefits Claim
In order to receive a fair and advantageous disability rating, veterans need to submit compelling claims and appeals forms to establish the correlation of an injury to their time in service and to illustrate its severity. Fortunately, knowledgeable and accredited legal representatives possess the experience and institutional expertise to fulfill these arduous requirements.
At Dolman Law Group, PA, our veterans' disability lawyers are on standby to provide the crucial assistance, advice, and advocacy to earn you the recognition you deserve for the injuries you suffered. With over 120 combined years of personal injury law experience, we possess a thorough understanding of the VA benefits system and boast advantageous connections to increase claimants’ chances of success.
Aside from assisting you in the compilation of an initial claim, we offer legal services for every level of the appeals process, including:
- Compiling evidence for Supplemental Claims
- Participating in informal Higher-Level Review conferences
- Representing you before the BVA
- Appealing your claim to the CAVC
Whether you need advice on how best to proceed or representation for more advanced appeals proceedings, we are prepared to offer the individualized treatment of a small firm with the resources and influence of a nationwide practice.
Contact Dolman Law Group for Help with Your VA Disability Benefits Claim
Although the VA appeals process may appear overwhelming, working alongside an experienced veterans' claim lawyer can increase your likelihood of success at an earlier stage in the disability benefits system and grant you the time to concentrate on your health and well-being.
Dolman Law offers free consultations for prospective clients to explain the complexities of the disability benefits system, the usefulness of seeking legal representation, and the services we provide. If you have struggled with acquiring the disability rating you deserve, consider contacting us today at (727) 451-6900.