Who Can Legally Assist With VA Claims And Who Can Charge Or Be Charged? (Part I)
Attorney Weatherby is quite proud to be accredited by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs ("VA") to assist with the preparation, presentation, and prosecution of claims for veteran's benefits. In fact, they were among the first attorneys in the State of Connecticut to have been accredited by the VA under the accreditation program that had its inception in June of 2008. Feel free to look in the list of VA current accredited attorneys maintained at the website for the VA Office of the General Counsel at http://www4.va.gov/ogc/apps/accreditation/. Our discussions with other professionals and the general public has made it clear to us that there is a great deal of confusion as to who is permitted to assist veterans and their families with claims for VA benefits and who is allowed to charge for such assistance. This memorandum is intended to help clear up some of that confusion.
Who may help with a specific VA benefits claim?
As a matter of federal law since 2008, "no individual may act as an agent or attorney in the preparation, presentation, or prosecution of any claim under laws administered by the Secretary [of the Department of Veterans Affairs] unless such individual has been recognized for such purposes by the Secretary[of the Department of Veterans Affairs]." 38 U.S.C. ? 5901.
Who has been recognized to provide such assistance? The law is very specific in that ONLY the following may assist a claimant in filing for benefits:
- A VA accredited attorney;
- A VA accredited agent;
- A Veterans Service Organization;
- A VA Regional Office representative; or
- A private individual with one-time permission to assist with one claim in particular.
The law is quite clear that any individual or organization that is not among one of these five categories is breaking the law if they provide assistance with a particular claim for benefits.
Who is a Claimant?
A Claimant is defined as an individual who has expressed "an intent" to file a claim. This means that no-one (other than the above) may counsel, coach, or assist in any way whatsoever with an application for benefits once the individual has expressed such an intention.
What this means in practical terms is quite simply, no person or organization, other than those listed above, may lend a helping hand with any application, including Aid & Attendance Benefits.
Who can charge or financially benefit in any way, for providing this assistance in filing a claim?
The simple answer is no one!
The law is very specific in that no individual or organization that has a financial interest in the outcome of a claim may charge a fee, or pays a fee in any way, for assistance with an initial application for benefits. See U.S.C. ? 5904(c)(1) This includes the claimant, his/her immediate family members, assisted living facilities, nursing homes, home care agencies, and virtually anyone who could gain financially from the outcome of the claim.
What this means in practical terms is that no person or organization that stands to gain, e.g., being able to provide services, or provide more services, for the Claimant, may pay some other person or organization to assist the Claimant in filing a claim.
Are there circumstances when a fee may be charged?
The only time a fee may be charged related to a claim is if the claim has been denied. Even then, only a VA accredited attorney or accredited agent may charge a fee and the fee must be approved by the Office of the General Counsel in Washington, D.C. Without such approval, no fee may be charged.