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From Disabled American Veterans (DAV): Press Release Attorneys in the Claims Process

August 18, 2006

Lawyers Bill Unwarranted, Costly to Veterans

Federal legislation that would allow lawyers to charge veterans for helping them file a claim for benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs is unnecessary and would increase costs to veterans, said Disabled American Veterans National Commander Bradley S. Barton.

Barton, who is himself an attorney and a veterans advocate, said veterans should not have to hire and pay a lawyer to help them with the largely administrative claims process, which is designed to be open, informal and helpful to veterans.

“The so-called Veterans’ Choice of Representation Act is unnecessary, and involvement of lawyers would increase costs to veterans and to the VA without significantly improving the process,” Barton said.

“The VA is required to assist veterans in completing and filing the relatively informal application for benefits and then takes the initiative to advance the claim through the appropriate steps,” Barton explained. “In addition, veterans can get free help from the DAV’s professionally trained National Service Officers or other organizations in navigating the VA claims process.”

“The VA itself is opposed to the legislation, noting that attorney fees would consume significant amounts of payments under programs meant to benefit veterans,” Barton said. “The VA would have to create a substantial new bureaucracy to perform the additional accreditation and oversight responsibilities. Instead the VA should use its scarce resources to hire more claims adjudicators and provide them with the training needed to improve the quality as well as timeliness of decisions.”

Congress placed the duty on the VA to ensure all alternative theories of entitlement are exhausted and all laws and regulations pertinent to the case are considered and applied. Currently, veterans may hire an attorney for advice and counseling prior to filing a claim for benefits or after the VA administrative proceedings have been completed.

Besides, there is no evidence that attorneys would provide service superior to that rendered by veterans service organization (VSO) representatives. In fiscal year 2005, for example, the Board of Veterans’ Appeals granted one or more of the benefits sought in 21.3 percent of the appeals in which claimants were represented by attorneys, who have the luxury of hand picking their clients. The board granted one or more of the benefits sought in 22.3 percent of the cases in which a claimant was represented by a veterans service organization.

The 1.3 million-member Disabled American Veterans, a non-profit organization founded in 1920 and chartered by the U.S. Congress in 1932, represents this nation’s disabled veterans. It is dedicated to a single purpose: building better lives for our nation’s disabled veterans and their families. For more information, visit the organization’s Web site