In order for anyone to assist a veteran in the preparation, presentation, or prosecution of a claim or appeal for VA benefits, that individual or agency must be accredited by the Department of Veteran’s Affairs. In order to be accredited by the VA, an individual must either:
By becoming an accredited attorney or claims agent, an individual providing assistance with VA claims is bound by a set of rules and ethics. Specifically, and most importantly, accredited attorneys and agents are governed by strict rules pertaining to when they may charge a fee for services and how much of a fee they may charge.
VA rules are crystal clear. As a condition of accreditation, attorneys and claims agents can not charge a fee for:
And while it is permissible to charge a fee for the initial consultation, the vast majority of attorneys do not. We here at Stone Rose Law do not charge and will never charge a fee for an initial consultation.
These VA rules are because the VA has a very broad statutory duty to assist claimants in perfecting and proving their claims. Accordingly, Congress has deemed that veterans should not be forced to pay an attorney or agent to assist them in obtaining their benefits when the VA is supposed to help them. (Surprise, though, many times the VA fails in their statutory duty to assist).
Accordingly, an accredited agent or attorney may only charge a fee if the following conditions are met:
When those conditions are met, an attorney may charge a fee. The fee may be an hourly rate, a flat fee, or a percentage of the past-due benefits (also known as a contingency fee). Regardless of how the fee is calculated, the total fee must be reasonable in light of the complexity of the case, the amount of work performed, and other factors.
Most importantly, when a veteran works with an accredited agent or attorney, they have recourse if they believe the fee they’ve paid is unreasonable. All Agent/Attorney fees are reviewable by the Board of Veterans Appeals for reasonableness.
Needless to say, claims consultation companies – which would be listed here if they didn’t close down shop and change names so frequently – are not bound by the same ethical rules as attorneys. These companies attempt to skirt the boundaries of “preparing” a claim by pretending they merely “consult” on a claim or “assist” a veteran in obtaining evidence to submit their own claim.
First, there is no difference between assisting a veteran in obtaining evidence for their claim and assisting the veteran in preparing their claim. They are quite literally the exact same thing.
Second, these “claims consultants” charge EXORBITANT rates for their “services” – sometimes as much as 5x the amount of increase they obtain for the veteran!
Third, these “claims consultant” companies quite frequently prepare and submit fraudulent disability benefits questionnaires in connection for benefits claims.
As many people are aware, VA ratings develop additional statutory protections after 5, 10, and 20 years. However, regardless of how long a VA disability rating has been in effect, it may always be severed for fraud. This is important for individuals who have used these types of companies in the past because the VA keeps a detailed list of physicians. Indeed, they even keep a “black list” of doctors whose opinions have been found to be inaccurate or fraudulent.
Furthermore, The VA’s Office of General Counsel and Office of the Inspector General have become laser-focused on VA disability fraud over the last few years. It is inevitable that OGC and OIG will, sooner or later, begin digging into claims that rest upon these well-known quack medical exam/opinion providers. And unfortunately, because these “claims consultants” do not formally represent the veteran, the risk is entirely on the veteran themselves – who almost always believes they have hired an accredited agent or attorney to provide legal representation to them.
When OIG and OGC start looking into these cases in more detail, there will be a drastic backlash in VA benefits reductions, overpayment recoupment, or even potential criminal fraud cases.
VA Claims consultation companies promise quick results that are almost too good to be true. However, they do not provide legal representation and are not legally authorized to provide the services they purport to provide. Even if their consultation is successful, the Veteran is left paying an exorbitant and unlawful fee and is jeopardizing their future livelihood and freedom. Don’t risk it – work with an accredited VA disability attorney.
Have your claims been denied? Not sure where to turn? Contact the expert VA disability attorneys at Stone Rose Law today to discuss how we can assist. Give us a call for a free consultation at 480-498-8998.