I hear a lot of veterans question why attorneys should charge money to do something a VSO will do for free, and I get it. No one wants to give money to someone if someone else can get the job done for free. This is why many veterans choose to get help from a Veterans Service Organization (VSO) rather than hire an attorney to handle their VA Disability Compensation claim. But as Warren Buffett said, “Price is what you pay. Value is what you get.” Sometimes the cheapest route is not the most valuable.
Don’t get me wrong: VSOs provide valuable services and advocacy for veterans every day. I know many veterans have been assisted by VSOs, whether it was in their VA claim for disability or other benefits, or more direct advocacy to get a service they needed or a law changed. I personally support various VSOs in their legislative advocacy efforts. However, VSOs are limited in many respects.
VSOs are staffed primarily by volunteers and work with thousands of veterans. What this means is that each individual veteran only gets a small amount of attention. In fact, the other day I spoke with a VSO volunteer who said “we just fill out the paperwork; the rest is up to the veteran.” For veterans with anything other than the most clear-cut claim – though I would argue that NOTHING is clear-cut when you’re dealing with the VA – this “let it be” attitude could result in the veteran’s claim being wrongly denied.
Additionally, VSO volunteers are most likely not attorneys. Though they may have years of valuable experience, they may miss a more nuanced legal issue that an attorney could easily identify. In fact, the VSO I quoted earlier was working on a highly technical appeal that, even with highly skilled legal assistance, could be easily lost. The fact that a VSO would so nonchalantly put an elderly, decorated combat veteran to the wolves in such a case really disturbed me.
Another factor to consider is that a veteran who uses a VSO is likely going to have to do a lot more work on their own than one who hires an attorney. This could be anything from filling out paperwork, calling the VA, obtaining medical records, getting a copy of their claims file, or keeping track of deadlines. A good attorney will handle all of that for the veteran, giving the veteran more time to focus on living her life rather than fighting the VA.
This is not to say that all attorneys are valuable, or that all VSOs are worthless. There absolutely are valuable VSOs and worthless attorneys out there. What I am saying, though, is that before hiring a VSO or attorney, each veteran should really take a look at why they are considering hiring a VSO. If it is to take the burden of the VA claims process off their plate, or to handle a complicated appeal, a VSO might not be the best option.
Every veteran should feel empowered to interview their VSO. Ask them what they can do for them, what their case load is, and how much time they can commit to each case. If the VSO doesn’t give satisfactory answers, the veteran should consider talking to an attorney.