For many veterans, all they need is someone at the local Veteran Service Organization to help with the claims and appeals process. But for some more difficult cases – either because they are challenging medically or legally – veterans have found success hiring an attorney to represent them before the VA or the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims. The VA advocacy bar has grown a lot over the years, with attorneys all over the country available to veterans. Here are some things to consider when deciding on an attorney.
What is the attorney’s primary practice area?
While a veterans advocacy practice is often emotionally fulfilling, it can be difficult to sustain a practice only on veterans appeals, which is why many lawyers also do social security and disability, or have a more general practice. You can ask what percentage of their practice they spend doing veteran appeals if you’d like to know how much they focus on these specific issues. Sometimes medical-related appeals are complicated and it helps to find an attorney who can figure out how to fit your disability to the VA ratings schedule.
Who will do the bulk of work on your case?
Many attorneys rely heavily on knowledgeable paralegals or law clerks to process their cases efficiently. While these para-professionals can be invaluable, you also want an attorney who will spend an adequate amount of time getting to know your c-file and medical history, so that you have identified all the possible arguments for your appeal.
What is the fee structure?
Most attorneys doing this work use a contingency structure, which means they receive 20% of the total benefits if any are recovered (plus expenses). The VA will pay that fee directly. But they don’t get paid unless you get paid. For that reason, some attorneys will charge more or charge a hybrid. If your claim is before the Court of Appeals of Veterans Claims, your attorney may not charge you anything but, upon victory before the Court, will receive fees from the VA on your behalf. This recovery does not affect any past-owed benefits you may receive. When you are reading over your engagement letter with your new lawyer, be sure that you understand the fee structure so you know what to expect.
Above all, communication is the number one key to having a positive relationship with your attorney.