Why should I ensure my Representative is VA Accredited over a company that is not?
Over the past few months I have noticed an increase of questions concerning companies, organizations and attorneys who can actually represent you in your VA Claim.
There are many answers offered but only one truly exists, in my opinion, which is are they accredited through Veterans Affairs to Represent or Help you with your claim? And as they should be.
These are companies, organizations, individuals or attorneys who have gone through he background check and testing from VA. While an individual can represent one client at a time without VA Accreditation, discussed in 38 CFR 14.630, it is wise to ensure that you protect yourself by selecting representation that have gone the route provided by VA.
There seems to be, a loophole that is being used to help veterans obtain documentation in various forms for their claims without going through the accreditation process and this article may step on their toes. These organizations and individuals often get the veteran in a contract for monies that may be received from back pay upon an increase in rating or a grant of rating and often charge a large amount above that which VA allows accredited representatives to charge.
Do these non-accredited companies or persons help veterans obtain a rating or increase? Yes, sometimes they do but at what cost and at what added value that you the veteran cannot do yourself?
So let’s get into what accreditation actually is….
What are the requirements of an accredited representative –v- someone who hasn’t?
- An Accredited agent, VSO, NSO, Attorney goes through a thorough background investigation.
- Non-Accredited companies do not do this, therefore we know nothing about them and their ability to represent and develop a proper claim.
- An Accredited agent, VSO and NSO is tested by the VA to insure adequate knowledge of Title 38 CFR and other pertinent Law. Attorneys only have to pass the state bar exam which also means they may or may not know VA Law.
- Non-Accredited companies do not do this; again, what do we know other than their word of their knowledge and ability to apply law to your claim?
- An accredited VSO, NSO, agent or lawyer can take your appeal to the Board of Veterans Appeals (BVA) and in some cases to the US Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims (CVAC).
- Non-accredited companies cannot.
- When another Criminal background investigation conducted by DHS, a series of applications and time, has been completed, someone who is accredited has access to the VBMS system (depending on their accreditation) and can view details of your claim/s.
- Non-Accredited Companies and individuals do not have this access nor has gone through the background investigations and can only ask you for your eBenefits log in information to see sketchy information about your claim which you can do yourself.
- Another point is that some contracts continue well into the future and even if you do not use them, they can come for a portion of your retro pay.
- VSO’s and NSO’s have a different level of accreditation. They do not take the same exam as an Agent does.
- Again, these non-accredited companies or individuals do not take ANY exams!
- Accredited Agents and Attorneys are required by the VA’s Office of General Counsel to complete and maintain a specific level of continuing education credits on VA Law and Ethics every few years.
- Once again, these non-accredited do not adhere to this.
So I bet by now you’re asking yourself a few questions. One I would be asking is why isn’t or won’t these companies and individuals go through the process in place by VA to obtain their accreditation? If they know so much and can get you a better rating, then it should be a snap for them right?
So what is the benefit of hiring an Agent, Attorney or someone who has gone through the process over a non-accredited company or individual? Glad you asked!
These folks have access to your Claim File (C-File) in that the same as a VA employee has and in some cases, more! This essentially means your Accredited Representative has the opposing team’s playbook which allows them to better develop your claim, appeal or whatever in your benefit! It also allows them to see possible money owed in back pay that VA failed to give you and act on it.
Don’t get me wrong, you can be not accredited and help a veteran, I see and do it all the time. There are many facebook groups and websites out there that do just that but the difference is, it’s all Free! There are NO secrets that VA is keeping from you to help you get a better rating and or get your claim approved! While dealing with claims can be very hard and many veterans either do not want to deal with it or simply can’t figure out how to find or apply the law properly with their disability or condition. That’s ok! Not everyone is able to grasp everything VA! This is where a lot of these facebook groups come into play and do help fellow veterans. Yes, there are a ton of them out there and which is the best to help you? Well, that is all on you and your willingness to due diligence on your part.
If you really want to see who VA has approved, you can go here; Accreditation Search and see if the individual Agent, VSO Representative or Attorney has gone through the process.
You can also read this article on ‘How to become a VA Accredited Claims Agent” to see the process in action, written by Carmella George, Accredited Claims Agent.
This article; ‘Information you should know before selecting a VSO Representative, Attorney or Agent to represent you on your claim’ written by Doug Haynes also explains in detail that which one should be looking for.
In short, I always tell folks that they should seek out an accredited representative and that they should always be as active in their claim process as possible. After all, you are your best advocate and will need to do some work! You can do everything with an accredited representative and yourself that someone who is questionable at best and save yourself some money and insure that who your working with actually knows what they are doing and can do what you really need to have done.
You can obtain Nexus letters and DBQ’s just as easy and often cheaper then these companies or individuals offer. Please, before you sign any contracts, do your research and ask questions and always remember, any information needed to develop an accurate and successful claim is out there for free!
A special Thanks to Gary Bradley, Doug Haynes and Carmella George for input on this article!
Thank You for Your Service and Keep up the Good Fight!