Good Intentions, Questionable Results
Limitations on veterans’ choice of representation can be traced back to the American Civil War, when Congress placed a limit of $5.00 on attorney representation for a veteran seeking benefits. A higher limit of $10.00 was later approved, but remained in effect until 1990. In 1990 an attorney was then allowed a fee at the new "Court of Veterans Appeals". Before 1990 a veteran could not appeal a final decision by the administration because a veterans appeals court did not exist for veterans. Since 2007 attorneys representation for veterans claims for a fee expanded to include claims on appeal at the administrative level after a decision is made on any issue.
While Congressional intent was to protect veterans from unnecessary legal fees and possibly unscrupulous practices, the result has been the limiting of veterans’ choices for representation and an environment in which a veteran’s attorney is often faced with potential conflicts of interest.
An Urgent Need
Thus far, just over 50 percent of the Iraq and Afghanistan veterans eligible for VA care have used it.
A staggering 45 percent of the 1.6 million veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are seeking compensation for service-related injuries, as confirmed by the Associated Press. That’s 720,000 men and women who sacrificed in service to their country. Yet, their rights are being compromised by policies imposed by the very government agency established to provide fair and just treatment to our nation’s military veterans.
Consider these facts:
• VA states that the average time to process a claim is 8 months - actually a vet's initial claim may take 2 years to process and may take several years or more to finalize.
• The V.A. reports it has 4.4 million cases being processed in 56 regional offices.
• Every disability is considered a single claim. Several claims or more can be submitted at the same time, while other claims are appealed on different paths during the appeal process.
• Veterans file initial claims, new claims, reopen claims for worsening conditions, reopen claims based on new and material evidence, file claims of individual unemployability and or file claims for special monthly compensation of some nature.
• A veteran's disability claims are based on a percentage due to the severity of the symptoms.
• Because VA law is so Complex, veterans should be entitled to comprehensive representation from attorneys, from start to finish, regardless of the number of claims or appeals.