The following information is adapted from the website of the National Organization of Veterans Advocates (NOVA). Follow the links to learn more.
A recent change in VA law now allows a veteran to hire an attorney or qualified agent once the VA’s appeals process has been initiated; that is, once a veteran has filed a Notice of Disagreement (NOD) at his or her Regional Office (RO). Unfortunately, the change in law (see 38 U.S.C.S. § 5904) only applies to claimants who filed their NOD on or after June 20, 2007. If the veteran filed the NOD prior to June 20, 2007, then he or she must wait until the BVA issues a final decision before hiring an attorney or agent for a fee.
In short, the reason to hire an attorney or agent is because VA laws and regulations are complex and the Board of Veterans Appeals retains an attorney for every appeal. It makes sense for a veteran to be on equal footing when their claim goes through its most precarious stage. As of 2007, a veteran must wait some six months before receiving a decision from a VA Regional Office (VARO) regarding a claim for service-connected compensation. Then, if the veteran’s claim is denied, the appeals process at the local VARO level can take another six months to two years before it is finally forwarded to the next level of the appeals process, the Board of Veterans’ Appeals (BVA) in Washington, DC. Once there, a veteran must wait approximately two years for a decision from the BVA. Similarly, the delay at the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims (CAVC) on average is also two years. All said, if a claim for VA benefits is denied, a veteran can spend 10 years or more waiting for VA to make the right decision. Veterans who pursue their appeals for VA benefits without professional representation are at a severe disadvantage.
Success Rates Improve with Professional Advocacy
Veterans have many options and agencies to help assist and represent them in securing their claims. However, veterans represented by attorneys have the lowest denial rate in front of the BVA, at 17.7 percent, well below the average 24.2 percent denial rate, according to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals Annual Chairman’s Report (Fiscal Year 2011).
Veterans with attorney representation before the BVA also are among the most likely to have their appeals allowed according to the report, with a 30.1 percent success rate. Veterans who are represented by claims agents have a slightly higher success rate at 32.7 percent, but the agents were responsible for only 71 successful appeals, whereas attorneys handled 1,295 cases.
At the link above, you will find a list of NOVA sustaining members by State. To be listed in our directory, these attorneys and agents must meet certain practice and training requirements.
- MUST be actively engaged in representing claimants pursuing VA benefits, and be accredited by the Department of Veterans Affairs and/or admitted to practice at the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims.
- MUST agree to comply with minimum standards of practice in representation of a veteran, including a thorough review of the veteran’s claims folder and timely filing and responses to all VA and Court designated timeframes for filings, pleadings, and motions.
- MUST attend one Continuing Legal Education (CLE) course every 24 months, which is specific to veterans’ law, and certify to NOVA the confirmation of such attendance.
Following the links in this article to learn more.
Tom Hagen is a member of NOVA and recently received a scholarship from the organization to attend their Spring 2014 Conference in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.