There are many benefits available to retired military personnel and retired veterans, especially those who were injured or made ill during their service. Unfortunately, and as you might expect with a government-run organization, applying for and being approved for these benefits isn’t always a smooth process.
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is large and, in many areas, tends to be disorganized. This is part of the reason the VA has received so much media attention in recent years. Efforts are reportedly underway to clean things up, but chances are it’s going to be a long haul. In the meantime, having an attorney who understands the VA and what you’re entitled to as a veteran can go a long way in helping you get what you need.
Working with an attorney might not make the process any faster or get your claim approved in a shorter period of time, but it can cut down on some of the red tape. It will also ensure you’ll get be aware of all of the benefits to which you are entitled. The laws regarding veterans tend to be confusing and complex and working with a lawyer for veterans can go a long way in making your life easier.
Why Do You Need a Lawyer for Veterans?
It is possible to apply for veterans’ benefits and handle a number of legal issues veterans face without an attorney. There are plenty of vets who apply for benefits and are approved without too many problems, but there are also plenty of horror stories about getting approved for benefits. Lawyers for veterans can help you apply for benefits and ensure you receive what you deserve less of the hassle a lot of vets face getting approved.
If you’ve applied for disability benefits through the VA and you’ve been denied, you should absolutely contact a lawyer. They can help you file an appeal and get approved for the benefits you deserve. Likewise, if you need a discharge upgrade, a lawyer for veterans can help you deal with many of the most common problems veterans face when applying for benefits.
What You Should Ask a Lawyer
If you’ve decided to consult with a lawyer for veterans, there are a few things you should ask during the meeting. This will help you determine if a lawyer has the experience needed to help you with your case. You can do this regardless whether you are looking for someone to help you with a VA benefits denial or for any other reasons.
First, if you are pursuing an appeal of a denial of benefits, you’ll want to make sure the lawyer is familiar with the Veterans’ Administration and that he or she has experience appealing benefit denials.
It’s also important to look for a VA-accredited attorney who has been practicing veterans’ law for some time. There’s no minimum or maximum number of years necessary, but you want to make sure the lawyer has at least been in the industry long enough to understand how the system works and to be able to anticipate any snags you might hit along the way.
Veterans’ lawyers have the opportunity to attend special training in veterans’ law. Ask any attorney you’re considering working with when was the last time he or she attended training. This way you know the attorney is up to date with the latest developments in the field.
Specific questions you’ll want to ask if you’re dealing with a benefits case include:
- Will we attempt to get the earliest effective date for my benefits?
- Can you help me get the highest rating for my disability?
- Will you work with me throughout my entire appeal?
You want to get a feel for how much support you’ll receive when filing and appealing a claim. If you are uncomfortable with any of the answers you receive during your consultation, ask for a clarification or consider scheduling a consultation with another lawyer.
How Can You Find a Veterans Lawyer to Help You with a Disability Claim?
Like most fields of law, Veterans’ lawyers tend to specialize in certain aspects of the law, so it’s important to find out what an attorney can offer you in terms of their experience.
The National Organization of Veterans Advocates (NOVA) provides an online directory of attorneys who are VA accredited and who have gone before the US Court of Veterans Appeals. These lawyers participate in yearly training events and aren’t listed in the directory until they’ve been a member of the organization for at least one year.
If you’re anticipating or in the midst of an appeal of a denied claim, you’ll want to work with a lawyer who has performed appeals to the US Court of Appeals for Veterans’ Claims (CAVC). The attorney you work with will need to be admitted to practice before the court.
There are also attorneys who specialize in helping clients who have been victims of sexual trauma related to their service time. The Service Women’s Action Network (SWAN) offers referrals for men and women service members and veterans who are in need of legal representation after a sexual assault or trauma.
What If I Can’t Afford a Lawyer for Veterans?
If you’re concerned about how you’ll pay for a lawyer, there’s good news: some attorneys offer free or pro bono services to veterans and active duty military members.
The National Veterans Legal Services Program offers free legal assistance to vets appealing a denial of disability benefits. And the Veterans Consortium Pro Bono Program offers free legal services to vets appealing a case denied by the Board of Veterans Appeals, including disability and other claims.
In addition to these organizations, you can also contact local organizations in your community to ask if they offer any pro bono legal services to veterans. Many law school clinics offer free services that are supervised by experienced attorneys. You’ll get the assistance you need and a law student will be able to learn the system and be more prepared to provide assistance to veterans in the future.