Information You Should Know Before Selecting A VSO Representative, Attorney, Or Agent To Represent You on Your Claim

-A A +A

 

Things to know before selecting a VSO

VA Accreditation

  • An individual generally must first be accredited by VA to assist a claimant on a claim for VA benefits—even without charge.  VA accredits three types of individuals:
    • Representatives of VA-recognized veterans service organizations (VSOs
    • Claims Agents
    • Attorneys
  • A searchable list of accredited VSO representatives, agents, and attorneys is available at the VA OGC’s website: http://www.va.gov/ogc/apps/accreditation/index.asp

Unaccredited Individuals & Unrecognized Organizations

  • Always verify the accreditation of an individual and the recognition of an organization.
  • Unaccredited individuals and unrecognized organizations advertise online and they may even contact you directly.
  • Many times they are illegally charging for services and they may lack the qualifications required for VA accreditation.
  • The use of terms such as “veteran” and “military” do not inherently mean the organization represents the best interests of veterans and their families.

Things to Be Aware of Before Selecting Representation

  • VA accredits attorneys and agents only in their individual capacity – not their organizations or companies.
  • VA will not accredit an individual as an attorney or agent if he or she has been suspended by any court, bar, or Federal or State agency to which the attorney or agent was previously admitted and not subsequently reinstated.
  • If considering attorney representation, check certification and disciplinary history online with his or her State licensing authority.

Note: Generally, Federal employees cannot be accredited due to the prohibition in 18 U.S.C. § 205.

Before Selecting Representation

  • Prepare a list of interview questions.
  • Call to schedule interviews with more than one candidate. 
  • Write down the responses to your questions and compare the responses you receive.
  • Follow-up calls are okay.  
  • Don’t be pressured into signing a contract on the spot.

Note:  The person who you select should be genuinely interested in your claim and committed to providing sound advice and quality representation.

Sample Interview Questions

  • When were you accredited by VA?
  • How long have you provided VA benefits claim assistance?
  • What is your training?
  • What types of claims have you filed in the past?
  • What is your experience with my type of claim?
  • Can you provide referrals from former clients?
  • How much contact may I reasonably expect from you, and what is your preferred method of communication?
  • Will you personally assist me in preparing and presenting my claim to VA?
  • Will anyone else assist you with my claim?
  • Will you represent me throughout the appeals process to include the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims? What is your experience with the appeal process?
  • What are your fees?
  • What are the expected expenses?

Fees – VSO Representatives

  • VA-recognized VSOs, including their representatives, are NEVER permitted to receive fees for their services in connection with VA benefit claims.
  • They also may NEVER receive gifts or donations for their services - Ex: A VSO representative cannot accept a donation from a claimant—such as paying for gas—as a thank you for assisting with VA benefits claim.

Fees – Attorneys & Agents

An accredited attorney or agent may only charge claimants a fee after:

  • VA made a decision regarding the claim
  • a Notice of Disagreement (NOD) has been filed initiating an appeal of that decision, and
  • the attorney or agent has filed a power of attorney and a fee agreement with VA.

NOTE: Attorney and claims agents may provide representation before that time without charge.

Fee Agreement Tips

  1. Pay attention to the fee being charged. 
  2. Make sure you understand the fee payment arrangement. 
  3. Mixed-type fee agreements and the direct payment of fees, don’t mix.
  4. Make sure that you understand the fee agreement—if you don’t, ask questions. 
  5. Understand the scope of representation and any limitations. 
  6. Be cautious of mid-representation changes to the terms of the agreement.

Challenging the Reasonableness of a Fee

Q: What should you do if an attorney or agent no longer represents you, but VA found that the attorney or agent is eligible for fees from your past-due benefits? 

A: You can file a motion challenging the reasonableness of the fee with OGC. ***Make sure you send a copy to the attorney or agent too.

Check out the fact sheet on “how to challenge a fee” for more information.  See https://www.va.gov/ogc/accreditation.asp

Standards of Conduct

  • VA-accredited individuals shall not engage in unlawful or unethical conduct.  38 C.F.R. §14.632.
  • In addition, VA-accredited attorneys shall not engage in behavior or activities prohibited by the rules of professional conduct of any jurisdiction in which they are licensed to practice law.

Cautionary Tales

Beware of Possible Predatory Practices:

Pension Poaching:

Financial Planners or Long-Term Care Consultants may promise to qualify ineligible Veterans by repositioning assets with financial products not always in the Veteran’s best interest.

Home Care Entities:

  • Home care entities may front home healthcare costs when they file a claim, but if, and when, the VA claim is not approved they charge the claimant for the costs. 
  • Other home care entities may try to require that future services (no matter the quality) be provided by them, thereby limiting the veteran’s choices of care.

Pre-Filing Consultation: 

Claims agents and attorneys, as well as unaccredited individuals, may try to avoid the law prohibiting charging Veterans a fee to initiate or file a claim by charging a fee on the front end for estate planning or “general information about Federal benefits,” and then filing the benefit claim “free-of-charge” as required by Federal law.

Third-Party Payees:

Another way claims agents and attorneys may try to avoid the law prohibiting charging Veterans a fee to initiate or file a claim is by asking the Veteran to have a relative, such as the Veteran’s son- or daughter-in-law pay an initial fee.  These practitioners may be trying to take advantage of the provision that permits accredited attorneys or agents to receive a fee from an organization, governmental entity, or other disinterested third-party.  This provision is not intended to permit attorneys and agents to circumvent the prohibition on charging initial fees.  

For information on filing a complaint regarding the preparation, presentation, or prosecution of a VA benefits claim go to: https://www.va.gov/ogc/accreditation.asp

Filing a Complaint

For information on filing a complaint regarding the preparation, presentation, or prosecution of a VA benefits claim go to: https://www.va.gov/ogc/accreditation.asp

For additional information about accreditation and related matters, go to: http://www.va.gov/ogc/accreditation.asp

Complaints:

Complains MailboxNew! Due to the large number of complaints that the VA accreditation program is receiving that do not fall succinctly within our jurisdiction to investigate, we recommend that you submit any complaint about an individual or organization assisting with VA pension benefits  through the Federal Trade Commission's complaint assistant.  The VA accreditation program will be immediately notified of every complaint filed through the above link.  However, in addition to possible action by VA, by submitting your complaint through the Federal Trade Commission, your complaint will also be accessible to other Federal and State law enforcement authorities for their possible investigation and prosecution. 

Likewise, if your complaint involves claims assistance or representation provided to you on a VA compensation claim (or another non-pension benefit) and you believe that other State and Federal laws and regulations apart from those involving VA accreditation may have been violated, you may also submit your complaint through the Federal Trade Commission's complaint assistant.

Finally, if your complaint is against a VA accredited attorney, claims agent, or veterans service organization (VSO) representative (please confirm the individual’s VA-accreditation status by locating his or her name here) and you believe that your complaint only involves a violation of the standards of conduct for VA-accredited individuals or if you do not wish for other law enforcement entities to immediately be notified of your complaint, then you may file your complaint directly with the VA accreditation program by submitting your written complaint, and a completed VA Form 3288 that will allow us to disclose your name and the information contained in the complaint to the VA-accredited practitioner, by mailing your complaint to the Office of the General Counsel (022D), Department of Veterans Affairs, 810 Vermont Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20420.  For questions on how to file a complaint with the VA accreditation program, or assistance in filling out the consent form, please call 202-461-7699.

VA FACTSHEET - HOW TO FILE A COMPLAINT

 

Resources

VA Accreditation & Discipline Program Contact Info:

                ogcaccreditationmailbox@va.gov

                (202) 461-7699

                Office of the General Counsel (022D)

                Department of Veterans Affairs

                810 Vermont Avenue, NW

                Washington, DC, 20420

Sep 25, 2019 - DAH

 

 

Rate Our Article (1 Star = Poor ~ 5 Star = Outstanding): 
No votes yet
Please rate us on how informative you found the article.