One of the most common questions we are asked is whether hiring an attorney to help obtain VA disability compensation is “worth it” when Veteran Service Officers with organizations such as Disabled American Veterans, American Legion, or the Veterans of Foreign Wars are able to help Veterans file for VA benefits for free. However, the question itself misunderstands the different roles a VSO and Attorney play in the fight for VA disability benefits. In this article, we want to discuss the different roles each play and highlight some situations in which a VSO may be better than an attorney – or vice versa.
A brief caveat: VSOs are dedicated and hard-working individuals who fight hard for their Veterans. Nothing in this article is meant to disparage VSOs or diminish the vital role they play in the VA benefits system.
A VSO is an individual accredited by the Department of Veterans Affairs to assist individuals with VA benefits issues, that is affiliated (or works/volunteers for) an accredited Veteran Service Organization such as Disabled American Veterans, American Legion, or the VFW. Typically, VSOs are not attorneys.
A VA-Accredited attorney is a licensed attorney, accredited by the Department of Veterans Affairs, to assist individuals in filing for benefits or appealing denied VA benefits.
VSOs do not charge a fee for their services and are authorized to represent veterans before the VA, including appeals to the Board of Veterans Appeals and, in some cases, before the Court of Appeals for Veteran Claims.
Attorneys, by contrast, typically charge a fee to prepare an appeal. Here at Stone Rose Law, our fee is simply 20% of any past-due benefits we obtain for you on appeal. Other attorneys may charge as much as 33%
VA-accredited attorneys are prohibited from charging a fee for the preparation of initial claims. Accordingly, many law firms do not assist veterans in preparing initial claims. Additionally, most attorneys charge a contingent fee from past due benefits that result in a cash payment to the Veteran. Notably, our firm is different than most as we have always and will continue to file new claims pro bono (for free) because it’s the right this to do. Many VA benefits issues – like education benefits, health care issues, home loan issues, etc. – do not result in cash payments to the Veteran, so many attorneys don’t focus on these areas of practice due to the lack of fees.
VSOs, on the other hand, are happy to help file initial claims for benefits. They can even help with appeals. But where VSOs shine, specifically, is with their in-depth knowledge of education and healthcare benefits issues facing veterans. In many cases, with veterans experiencing difficulty with their GI bill benefits, these veterans can quickly and easily get these issues resolved by seeking the help of a VSO.
While many firms do not assist Veterans with preparing new disability claims, here at Stone Rose Law, we are happy to assist pro bono. The biggest benefit to working with an attorney when filing new claims is that an attorney looks at a case from a legal perspective from day one and works to craft the record and evidence in the most favorable light from the very beginning. This not only maximizes the chances of success on the initial application, but in the event a claim gets denied it begins building a solid appellate record from the very first claim.
Furthermore, seeking the assistance of a competent and qualified VA accredited attorney is vital for the success of an appeal. While VSOs do a fantastic job, they simply are not as trained in the statutes, regulations, rules, and case law that shapes VA disability benefits. Furthermore, by virtue of their role, they do not have the deep base of medical training and education that a VA-accredited attorney will bring to the table.
Lastly, attorneys are trained in both written and oral advocacy – it’s not enough to have the evidence in the record, that evidence must be presented in a compelling and persuasive manner to force the VA to grant benefits. This is where attorneys – especially the attorneys here at Stone Rose Law – excel.
In summation, VSOs are great in assisting veterans in the initial applications for education benefits, health benefits, or with issues accessing VA resources. Indeed, they particularly excel in the realm of education benefits. However, attorneys bring significant training and legal expertise, as well as effective written and oral advocacy, to the table.
Are you a veteran with questions about your VA disability benefits, including how to apply? Don’t hesitate to reach out to Stone Rose Law today to speak with one of our VA accredited attorneys.