Should I Hire an Attorney or Agent to Get Veterans Disability Benefits?
The fight for disability compensation can be as tough and grueling as anything on the battlefield. Not only is the VA disability claims process complex, it can be long and error-prone. Veterans Service Organizations (VSOs) have stepped in to shoulder some of the bureaucratic burden placed on veterans seeking disability compensation, but a typical VSO like Disabled American Veterans handles tens of thousands of claims a year.
The level of personal attention a VA disability attorney or agent can devote to your claim might be reason alone to hire one. Experienced attorneys and VA-certified claims agents also help dig up evidence to support your claim, ensure you’re getting the highest possible disability rating, and support you through every step of the claims process.
There are a couple of specific scenarios where it makes sense to hire an attorney who will fight to get you the benefits you deserve. If your claim has been denied and you plan on appealing, you’ll want an attorney or agent to help navigate the complex appeals process. If you believe your disability rating is too low, or you have new evidence that you want to present to the Board of Veterans Affairs, an attorney or agent can help increase your rating.
The numbers also speak loudly. You’re more likely to have your claim granted on appeal with the help of an attorney. According to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals fiscal report for 2018, veterans represented by counsel had 45% of their claims granted, compared to the American Legion’s 35% success rate. Read on to learn what attorneys and agents bring to the table, and why it might be a good idea to have one in your corner.
Experience Navigating the VA Disability Claims Process
Attorneys specializing in VA disability law have spent many years working with the VA and know the system inside out. Establishing service-connection for a physical or mental disability can be challenging, especially when complete service or medical records are hard to track down, or making a diagnosis is difficult. PTSD and back injuries – both conditions with wide-ranging impacts on daily life and potential earnings — are particularly hard to get diagnosed and properly assessed by a doctor.
Crucially, attorneys don’t rely on the VA alone to gather evidence used to support your claim, and will bring in outside opinions to corroborate your claim. Furthermore, attorneys know what to expect from the VA, and will develop your claim efficiently. Since attorneys only get paid when you get compensated, the goal is to reach the fastest decision at the lowest level of the appeals process, without leaving any compensation you’re owed on the table. Which brings us to the next point: attorneys maximize your claim.
Maximize VA Disability Compensation
A good VA claims agent or attorney will scrutinize the VA’s C&P exams against your own evidence to ensure the full award was granted. In many cases this careful review reveals errors or mischaracterizations leading to successful appeals for a higher disability rating, or an earlier effective date. In some cases, your award may have an effective date that could go back decades, prompting the VA to pay you all of the benefits you should have received over the years, to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars in backpay.
Accurate Medical Evaluations
More and more the VA relies on contractors to conduct C&P exams, which determines your disability rating and how much you will be compensated. But a recent report to Congress by the top watchdog group in the country found that the majority of these contractors failed to meet the VA’s own standards for accuracy and timeliness. The point of the C&P is to accurately assess your overall health condition, and how your disability limits your ability to work and perform daily functions. The C&P exam shouldn’t be an opportunity for the VA to introduce errors into your claim file or lowball the severity of your disability. A good VA disability lawyer knows what VA doctors are looking for, and what to look out for, and will ensure you get your disability evaluated correctly the first time.
Knowledge of Complex VA Rules and Regulations
Having an attorney guide you through the VA’s complex bureaucracy can save you headaches. VA laws and regulations are intricate and subject to frequent change, and the intent behind those changes often lacks transparency. Claims can be denied for a number of reasons:
- Lack of documentation that the injury occurred during active service
- No diagnosis (particularly common with psychiatric conditions like PTSD)
- Incorrect or incomplete data in original C&P exam report, resulting in delays and follow-up exams
- Missed C&P exam
- The VA rejects the opinion of VA doctor or your private doctor
- Favorable evidence missing from claim
An experienced lawyer can help you avoid these pitfalls by reviewing your claim file for medical or factual errors, seeking outside opinions from private doctors, and ensuring your doctor speaks the VA’s language in establishing service-connection. VSOs have less training in the law, and can’t always spot violations.
Guidance and Support Through the Entire Process
Attorneys and claims agents guide and support you through every step of the process, from gathering medical and service evidence, to preparing for C&P exams, to appearing before the Board of Veterans Affairs. When you hire a representative, you only need to explain your story once. From there, your representative will be your point person throughout the process. While VSOs may handle as many as a thousand veterans’ claims at any given time, attorneys only take on as many cases as they have the time and resources to fully commit to. You don’t have to go it alone or risk slipping through the cracks of the VA’s massive bureaucracy.
Bottom line: Applying for VA disability benefits can be a long and frustrating process. Attorneys work on your behalf to gather evidence needed to document your disability and how it affects your ability to work. They also make sure you get the highest possible rating for your disability and the earliest effective date. You sacrificed for your country. It’s only right that you get the disability benefits you deserve.