The claims process through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) can be tricky and involves many steps. That is why many veterans obtain assistance when handling their VA claims. This can be done through the work of an attorney or an agent, but it is important for them to be accredited for the VA.
The VA created the accreditation program to ensure veterans and their families receive the appropriate representation when it comes to benefits.
A VA accredited agent can assist in the preparation, presentation, and prosecution of VA claims. Representation that is not accredited by the VA cannot assist in these steps.
This blog will go over working the basics of VA accreditation, as well as the risks of working with a non-accredited agent in a VA claim.
What Are VA Accredited Agents?
VA accredited agents are representatives that have obtained legal accreditation to assist veterans with filing a claim. They are the only representation that can prepare, present, and prosecute VA claims.
Once they complete their application and receive accreditation, they are annually certified to be in good standing. The VA is constantly changing the claims process. So, accredited agents need to complete three hours of qualifying CLE on veterans benefits law and procedure. This needs to happen no later than three years from the date of the initial accreditation, then every two years after that.
As mentioned above, attorneys are common representatives. However, claims agents, veteran service officers (VSOs), and government organizations may also obtain VA accreditation.
Your accredited representative will have access to your VA claims file using the Veteran Benefits Management System (VBMS). VBMS is a claims management software custom-built for the Veterans Administration.
How Do You Appoint a Representative?
After you complete your research of available VA-accredited agents, the next step is to appoint that representative. You need to complete a specific form to appoint your chosen representative.
Use VA Form 21-22A, Appointment of Individual as Claimant’s Representative, when recognizing an individual as your representative. Use VA Form 21-22, Appointment of Veterans Service Organization as Claimant’s Representative, when recognizing a Veterans Service Organization (VSO) as your representative.
Once you complete and sign the form, you can send it through your ebenefits account or through the mail. If mailing your form, send it to:
Department of Veterans Affairs, Claims Intake Center,
PO Box 4444, Janesville, WI 53547-4444
What Are The Risks of Working With a Non-Accredited Agent?
Agents who are not accredited through the VA are not legally allowed to assist with preparation, presentation, and prosecution of the VA claim. The VA will require a Form 21-22 or 21-22A with an accredited agent or for you to continue the filing process without representation until the agent is accredited. Additionally, a veteran may need to pay non-accredited agent fees if they hire a non-VA accredited agent.
Accredited agents must follow a heightened code of conduct set not only through the state bar, but also the VA when representing veterans and their families for benefits. These rules are in place to benefit the veteran, so trying to use a non-accredited agent puts you at a disadvantage.
What Red Flags Should You Look For When Hiring an Agent?
When speaking to your potential representation, ensure that you are prepared and have questions to ask. And always remember to ask if they are accredited.
You can also use the VA’s Accreditation Search website to find an accredited agent.
Be on the lookout for red flags when hiring an agent. These red flags might include requiring a fee to file a claim. If an attorney or agent assists in the initial claim filing, they must do so without charging a fee. Other red flags include not needing a fee agreement and fees being unreasonable.
If your potential representation is also guaranteeing an outcome, this is a red flag. Only the VA can make that determination. You should also be wary if the agent is trying to take a portion of your future monthly benefits.
It’s also a red flag if the individual or company asks for your personal or financial information.
Ask plenty of questions and follow up on the representative through the VA Accreditation search before signing an agreement.
The VA created their accreditation program to assist veterans and their families in claims for benefits. During the claims process, it is vitally important to always work with a VA-accredited representative or attorney.
While the VA requires representatives to maintain their accreditation through yearly training, each agent or attorney is different. It’s just as important to find an attorney with proven training, experience, and strong communication skills.
Having the proper legal assistance with proven experience and training is very important when staying on top of your VA claim. Our attorneys at Hill & Ponton specialize in veterans’ disability and can assist.
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