When most people think of lawyers images of Matlock, Elle Woods, or even that fella from TMZ come to mind. When you are in search of an attorney to handle your VA disability claim, who are you going to hire? Where do you start? Are all attorneys the same? Should I just go with a VSO? Most Veterans are faced with these questions when they first consider pursuing a disability claim. Unfortunately, there aren’t many guides out there for selecting an attorney and there are surprisingly few good options. So, what is a Veteran to do? I’ve compiled this list of 10 tips all Veterans need to know when searching for a VA disability attorney.
Before we get into the tips, you are probably wondering; do you even need an attorney? Well, as an employee of a law firm you may think that I am biased, and truth be told, I am. But I am also a man of reason, and love logic. Consider this thought though. If you’re a Vet there is a good chance you’ve been dealing with the Government for years. As you are already aware, the only thing that government organizations hate more than efficiency is simplicity. VA cases are extremely complicated. Even filling out the initial application can make a strong man weak. If you call the VA for help, you are probably going to be put on hold long enough to watch a Christopher Nolan film. So, an attorney can be a great guide through the complicated process. It’s also safe to assume that anyone who has a vested interest in your case will work harder to get you the benefits you deserve. So, and Attorney is much better than fighting alone. Here are the things you need to know before you search for the person to represent you.
- This isn’t like most other types of law. VA disability is a lot like Lady Gaga, complicated. The closest thing it resembles is Social Security Disability, and those two are as different as the Marines and the Air Force. In VA Disability, you are not suing anyone, you are not going to bring in surprise witnesses, and you’re not going to be seen in front of a jury. The reason why there aren’t hit shows on TV about VA Disability law firms is that it’s actually quite boring…and of course complicated. There is a lot filing, gathering evidence and waiting. While it can be quite frustrating for Veterans, keep in mind that you’re not in trouble for anything and it will seem completely different once you’ve started the process.
- An Attorney, a VSO, and even Captain America can’t speed up your claim. Some people may make promises that they can speed your claim up, but they are wrong. There are only two ways to speed up a VA disability claim. One would be if you’re terminally ill, and the other would be if you’re facing an economic hardship. If I’m honest, the latter does not happen very often. Further, no matter what you may hear from certain organizations, it’s still a very long wait.
- Most Veterans haven’t hired an attorney before. A lot of the Veterans we talk to now are quite young. In fact, recently I talked to a fella who was born in 1995. That’s the same year that Toy Story came out. So they’re not likely to have a lot of experience dealing with the legal process. Granted, you don’t have to be a millennial to be unfamiliar with lawyers. The biggest thing we see from this fact is a lot of Veterans, regardless of age, have communication apprehension when dealing with a law firm. It’s kind of like when you have to the doctor. We are aware of this and we work hard to make our firm very approachable. We let you get to know us online, we have friendly case managers to answer your questions, we give books out that explain the process, and our firm even has a really cool employee who writes amazing blogs on practically every VA subject.
- What’s it going to cost? Attorney fees can be scary, especially if you consider how much a criminal defense attorney charges, or how much it can cost to get a divorce. Once again though, VA Disability attorneys are different. Most of them work on a contingency fee, meaning that you don’t pay any cost up front, and only pay a percentage of your back pay if you are approved. It is important to question an attorney about any additional fees besides the back pay. A lot of Veterans come to us from other law firms. We have seen a wide variety of additional fees from other law firms. This includes travel expenses, postage, and even the cost of the food they ate when they went to a hearing. Our firm does not charge those types of fees, but others do. The only thing we charge in addition to your attorney fees are costs associated with charges for medical records or Independent medical exams. Essentially it’s a reimbursement. Regardless of who you go with, make sure you are aware of all of their fees.
- A lot of the information about your case comes from one big file. From the time you join the military, and until many years after you pass away, there are paper files about you from the military and the VA. This includes entrance exams, admin records, VA health records, disability filings, and much, much more about you in this file. It’s commonly referred to as a Claim File. A claim file, or c-file as it is commonly known, is one of the most important aspects of your case. This will tell us a majority of the information we need to know about your claim. We can see if you were physically injured in service, if you had any behavioral issues, and even if you served in combat.
- You may have to go to a hearing or two. But don’t worry, they are very informal. If your claim is denied you may have to go to a hearing down the road. There are actually three separate types of hearings in a VA disability claim. These include a Decision Review Officer Hearing, a Board of Veterans appeals hearing, and finally, the rarest of them all, the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims. These are also often called DRO, BVA, and CAVC.
- A DRO hearing is the most informal of all of the hearings, and it comes first. Essentially in this hearing your attorney will represent you in front of a Decision Review Officer. That is it. There is no jury, no judge, and no objections. They are very relaxed.
- The second hearing is the BVA Hearing. It is more formal and traditionally follows a denial by a DRO. The BVA is a traveling board who call Washington D.C. home. However these hearings can be done in person in Washington, but most elect not to travel. In some circumstances, a BVA hearing is completed via video. The end result of a BVA hearing will come in one of the following ways: An approval, which is good, a denial which is bad, or a remand, which is somewhere, in the middle. Remands go back to the Regional Office for further evaluation.
- If you are denied at the BVA, your last hope is CAVC. (Sometimes we call it COVA for reasons that are not imperative to this blog.) The hearing you have at the CAVC is the most formal and few Vets actually go that far. Fun Fact, VAVC is not a part of the Department of Veterans Affairs. According to the CAVC website, The Court’s review of Board decisions is based on the record before the agency and arguments of the parties, which are presented in a written brief, with oral argument generally held only in cases presenting new legal issues. In other words, something has to be really wrong with your claim to get that far. It’s rare for our firm to take a case to CAVC because we are very thorough with our reviews.
- You’re going to get frustrated, and probably more than once. The biggest thing most Veterans aren’t aware of prior to pursuing a VA disability claim is how mentally taxing they can be. Frustration is inevitable with a VA disability claim. The frustration comes in many different forms too. Sometimes it will be a result of the VA denying you on a claim in which it’s obvious you should be connected, and other times it’s simply frustration at the timeline. You will be evaluated by the VA for your claims multiple times too. Many Veterans have told me horror stories about evaluations with VA doctors that last fewer than three minutes. That’s barely the length of a good Guns and Roses song.
- You have to get treatment. I hate going to the doctor. I hate taking medication. I hate sitting in waiting rooms for 20 minutes just to talk to a doctor for 5 minutes. But, in order to stay healthy, a visit to the doctor every few months is imperative. The same can be said for VA disability compensation too. Except it’s even more important with the VA. The VA uses medical records to determine the severity of your case. Often the VA will rate you lower than you should be for a condition. Our firm can use your medical records to argue against the VA.
- You can’t take no for an answer. Yes, you will get mad at some point when dealing with the VA, but you can’t give up. We’ve established that it’s a long wait, and that it’s frustrated, but too many Veterans give up because the system failed them. Our firm won’t let you give up either. I’ve seen approvals for Veterans who had to wait more than ten years for an approval and they were mighty happy when they were approved. I’ve also seen our Lead VA Attorney Heather Vanhoose mount a huge argument against the VA when they tried to say one of clients was malingering with his PTSD claim. It took a while, but that client is now receiving benefits at 100%. You will want to give up, but that isn’t in the vocabulary of most Marines, Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, or Coast Guardsmen.
- Maggie and Jake are both actors, but one is better than the other. Comment below if you know who I am talking about. In other words, lots of law firms handle VA disability claims, but they are not equal. Some are better than others. Do your research. The best way to determine if a law firm is good at what they do is via their online presence. Do they have a lot of real google reviews? Are there any client testimonials? Do they offer information to the public free of charge? Are they involved in their community? These are just some ways to determine if the attorney you’re pursuing is any good at what they do. Never hesitate to ask around too.
By now you should have some understanding of what it’s like to hire an attorney for a VA disability claim. However, if you need more information, just give us a call. We’ll be happy to answer your questions. If we can’t help you we’ll even tell you where to go to get the help you need. Fill out this form for a free consultation, or give me a call today. 1-877-526-3457.