According to data from the VA, veterans disability lawyers can improve your chances of winning on appeal. According to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals data, veterans appealing in 2011 with no representation had 36% of their appeals denied. Veterans with attorneys had 18% of their appeals denied.
Each situation is unique, and some cases can be better helped by attorneys than others. Here are some of the areas where attorneys experienced in helping veterans with disability claims can provide assistance:
Knowing the law and complex regulations
The VA has to work with complex laws and regulations when it reviews claims. Very high error rates show that even the VA itself has trouble correctly understanding and applying these rules. The VA admits to an error rate of 14% on disability claims. The Center for Investigative Reporting analyzed a group of those claims and found the percentage of mistakes was closer to 38%.
Experienced attorneys know the laws and regulations. All veterans disability lawyers must be accredited by the VA. To maintain their accreditation, they are required to stay current on the laws and procedures by taking continuing legal education courses.
Building a strong case
Lawyers are skilled at building cases, by maximizing all available evidence to prove your case meets the requirements. If the VA denied your claim because it said there was no evidence, or the evidence you presented was not sufficient, an attorney can help you prove your condition and/or its connection to your military service.
Attorneys who work in this area will have skilled investigators who know how to track down records. If your case is hard to prove simply with available records, attorneys know how to demonstrate facts in other ways. Opinions from medical experts can help bolster your claim for physical or mental illness; statements from witnesses can help prove the accident was related to your military service. No attorney can guarantee you will win, but they can make it harder for the VA to deny your claim and easier to assign the appropriate disability rating.
Handling challenging claims
Some types of claims are simply difficult to prove, or may be viewed less favorably by the VA. Mental illness is one of these. The VA has a history of underestimating mental health conditions resulting from military service. Only recently, in 2010, did the DVA relax its evidence requirements to prove post-traumatic stress disorder.
Even though recognition of PTSD is improving – problems still remain. Disability claims by veterans for conditions related to mental illness continue to be commonly misunderstood and under-valuated. If the VA sends you to one of their doctors for diagnosis, they may not be trained to correctly diagnose the existence and severity of mental health conditions. Even if the condition is correctly diagnosed, the VA may rate it lower than it should be rated.
While the VA deals in generalities, attorneys provide personalized attention to your case. Their entire goal is to get you the proper benefits you deserve for the condition you are suffering.
May reduce delays
Attorneys can’t actually make the appeal process itself work any faster. However, experienced attorneys can help gather all initial evidence and documentation more quickly and get the appeal process started more quickly; they can also reduce the turnaround time it takes to respond to requests for more information. In some cases, they may spot errors early in the process that can eliminate even more delay. Shaving off a few weeks or months at every point throughout your appeal can really add up.
If you’re wondering how you can afford to hire an attorney, most Veterans disability lawyers take cases on a contingency basis — which means they only get paid on the contingency that you win your appeal. See our article “How much does a VA disability attorney cost?”