Do you need help with your VA disability claim or benefits? Many veterans have to decide whether to choose a VA Accredited Claims Agent or a Veteran Service Officer(VSO) to seek VA disability benefits. There are advantages to each choice but what is the wisest?
What is an accredited VA Claims Agent?
An accredited VA claims agent is an independent legal professional who is not an attorney but rather an individual who, under the provision of federal law, has undergone a character and fitness review by the VA Office of General Counsel and passed a written examination regarding veterans law and VA procedures. VA accreditation refers to the authority granted by the VA by federal law to those who meet the standards established by the VA. VA’s stated purpose in requiring accreditation is to ensure that claimants for VA benefits receive “qualified assistance in preparing and presenting their claims.”
VA recognizes 3 types of individuals for purposes of accreditation:
Accredited claims agents, and
Accredited representatives of veteran service organizations (Veterans Service Officers/VSOs).
A VA accredited attorney or claims agent may generally charge claimants a fee ONLY after a VA agency of original jurisdiction (e.g., a VA regional office) has issued an initial rating decision on a disability claim or other lawful veterans benefits. Veterans should be aware that there are indeed limits to the fees that may be charged under federal law.
The VA Office of General Counsel maintains a list of VA-recognized organizations and VA-accredited individuals(attorneys, VSOs and VA claims agents) that are authorized to assist in the preparation, presentation, and prosecution of VA benefit claims at va.gov/ogc/apps/accreditation/index.asp.
Veterans should beware of unaccredited individuals and VA disability “claim sharks” who prepare, present, or prosecute VA benefit and disability claims, or hold themselves out as being authorized to do so, as they are in violation of Federal law.
VA Accredited Claims Agent vs. A VSO
There are significant differences between these two types of representatives but it generally boils down to the fact that a VA claims agent can charge a fee and a VSO can’t charge a fee for representation on a VA disability claim. VSOs are often undertrained and overloaded with veterans cases as volunteers. While VSOs are well-intended, good people they often have little skill in veterans law and will simply submit what you give them and tell them too. Some VSOs do work for their veteran service organization or local/state government but they are still often simply undertrained for the task.
Alternatively, accredited VA claims agents fees do give them “skin in the game” with regard to your claim and thus the sheer drive to win the claim is often higher. A good, experienced VA claims agent will review your claims file thoroughly and provide a clear strategy for winning the claim or getting you the highest rating. Certified VA claims agents gain skill in veterans law over time and mostly handle appeals of denied claims.
So which should you choose to represent you? You have to make that decision yourself. We advise that you weigh these options carefully. Representation is a big decision and the right representation could save you years while the wrong representation could drag your claim out for a long time. The return on investment of good, solid help with your VA disability claim can be very high. Choose wisely.
For claims agent accreditation training and online practice agent examination study materials + questions, see vaclaimsagent.com. For further VA accreditation information, see va.gov/ogc/accreditation.asp.
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