The use of a VA disability attorney is regulated by the Department of Veterans’ Affairs. All attorneys who assist veterans with disability claims must be accredited by the VA, and the VA reviews all fee agreements. The VA has the authority to regulate conduct of attorneys who represent veterans, to provide the veteran some assurance that s/he will not be taken advantage of.
You may have heard about the old law, which only allowed an attorney or agent to work for hire after the Board of Veterans’ Appeals issued a first final decision on a claim. The law has since been changed to give veterans the right to hire attorneys anytime after they file a Notice of Disagreement on the case.
Payment made on contingency
A VA disability attorney does not charge hourly rates to represent veterans on appeal. Most cases are taken on a contingency basis, which means they only get paid on the contingency that you win on appeal. If you get an award for back pay, which includes an award for higher benefits, the attorney receives a percentage of that award as their fee.
If you lose your appeal, the lawyers do not get paid. That is the risk they run when taking cases on a contingency basis.
Copies of fee agreements to be filed with the VA
A copy of every fee agreement between a VA claimant and an accredited attorney must be filed with the Office of the General Counsel within 30 days of its execution. This is because the DVA is authorized to review the expenses and fees that are charged in connection with claims for disability benefits.
Federal rules give the DVA authority to order a reduction in attorney fees charged to veterans if they are found to be “excessive or unreasonable.” The rule further states that “a fee that does not exceed 20 percent of the past due amount of benefits awarded on the claim will be presumed to be reasonable;” consequently, most attorneys experienced in this area will charge close to 20%.
You may be asked to pay some small out-of-pocket expenses, for items such as costs to obtain copies of records. You can discuss these fees with your lawyer.
How do I find an attorney
All attorneys who represent veterans in their disability appeals are required to be accredited by the VA. According to the VA, “Accreditation means the authority granted by VA to assist claimants in the preparation, presentation, and prosecution of claims for benefits.”
Accreditation is not required for a general consultation about what benefits a veteran might be eligible for. If you know an attorney who is trying to help you out for free, with general advice, that’s one thing. But when you actually go to file your appeal, the attorney must be accredited. This is not only a requirement of the DVA, but it also ensures that your money is spent on someone qualified to practice in this area.
Accredited attorneys are approved to practice before the Department of Veterans Affairs. The DVA checks that they are authorized to practice law and in good standing with their state bar. The DVA can regulate the conduct of accredited attorneys, and does require them to keep abreast of developments in the law and procedures by taking annual education courses.
While at a minimum you must hire an attorney who is accredited, you also want to find an attorney who is well experienced in handling veterans’ disability appeals. You will want to do your own investigation into the attorneys’ background. Most attorneys will provide a free consultation, and during that time, you may want to ask questions like:
- “How much of your practice is devoted to work with veterans disability?”
- “Can you tell me some examples of cases you’ve handled for vets similar to mine?”
- “What other involvement does your firm have with veterans’ issues – are you members of any associations in this area?”
Be leery of anyone who makes you grand promises. Each case is unique and no one can predict exactly the outcome of your appeal. Select someone you feel will give your case the personal attention it needs. The bottom line anytime you hire an attorney should be to find someone you feel comfortable with.