Let’s talk about the elephant in the room, first: Yes, I am a lawyer. Yes, this post is about whether you need a lawyer. Yes, this could be seen as a self-serving post. But there is something else you should know: I don’t want your case if you don’t want a lawyer, and even if you do, I personally may not even be the right lawyer for you. I do, however, want to help you figure out if you should spend your time and resources to hire a lawyer, because not every person should, or can. Whether you hire a lawyer to help with your VA Disability Compensation claim is a decision you should give a lot of thought to. Here are the two main questions to get you started.
When should I get a lawyer?
Lawyers cannot get paid for helping veterans file their initial claim. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you could not hire a lawyer to do so, but that lawyer would have to agree to do it for no fee. There are VSOs that can help you file your initial claim for no fee if you want some help.
Lawyers typically get involved in claims once a Notice of Disagreement has been, or will be, filed. Having an attorney get involved now may help head off problems down the road, and save you a lot of time in subsequent appeals.
If you have already filed a Notice of Disagreement and have received an unfavorable decision, you should strongly consider hiring an attorney.
What can a lawyer do for me?
A lawyer can be helpful in a number of ways. First, they will deal with the VA for you. This means no missed work or time with your family to handle requests, letters, or calls from the VA.
Lawyers can help you organize your claims. If you have a lot of different medical conditions, or a combination of pre-existing and new conditions, it may be helpful to have a lawyer explain to the VA how your conditions are service-connected, and why you should be compensated for them. If something is confusing to you, you should assume that it will also be confusing for the VA claims representative assigned to your case. While a good attorney will take her time to figure out these issues for you, you cannot assume a VA claims representative will do the same. In fact, given the immense backlog they are dealing with, you should assume the opposite.
Lawyers can help you obtain your records. The VA does have a duty to assist veterans in obtaining their medical records, but the VA will not pay for private medical records, and will only help to a certain extent. If you have extensive medical care by private providers, your lawyer can track down all of your records for you to ensure that the VA is not missing any critical information. Your lawyer can also help you find old military records that may be necessary to show your condition is service connected.
Lawyers can find legal issues that you may not be able to. Sometimes you receive a decision letter and know it is wrong, but you can’t quite figure out why. An experienced VA Accredited attorney can look at your file and figure out exactly what issues to raise on appeal. They also may be able to identify issues you never realized were there.
A lawyer will advocate for you at a hearing. Most veterans are unrepresented at hearings before the Board of Veterans Appeals (BVA). When a veteran has an attorney there who can organize, prepare, and present the case in a succinct and persuasive manner, the veteran is always better off. Moreover, the judges tend to appreciate having the help of an attorney. Contrary to what it can feel like, the VA and BVA really do want to help veterans, and having a skilled advocate there can make their jobs easier.
A lawyer can speed the process up, within limits. First, the backlog is the backlog is the backlog. A lawyer cannot make your case jump in line ahead of another veteran’s case. However, when a lawyer is on record, it tends to make the VA stand at attention a bit more than when a veteran is unrepresented. As unfortunate as this reality is, many VA staff treat attorneys and veterans differently. When I call and mention that I am an attorney, the issues I raise tend to get attended to a little more promptly than when my clients raise the same issues themselves.
There are of course many other reasons why a lawyer might be helpful to you, but these are some of the most common ones. Should you have any doubt, you could always call a lawyer and ask them yourself. Their answers should give you a good idea of whether they are a good fit for you.