A Call to Duty: Contrary to Popular Belief, You Can Take Pro Bono VA Benefit Cases
You may have heard in recent news reports that the Department of Veterans Affairs is finally putting a dent in the backlog of veterans’ benefits claims. Claims that have been pending for more than 125 days are characterized as “backlog.” The VA’s goal is to eliminate the backlog of compensation claims pending for more than 125 days by the end of 2015.
You Can Assist In This Backlog
Attorneys can become involved in the VA claim process at the initial level of the VA, as well as by taking an active role in the adjudication process in advance of traditional appellate litigation. There are several benefits a veteran can claim through the VA. However, most of the VA denial-of-benefits cases, and the legal practice surrounding those denials, focus on veterans’ disability claims.
The Eight Steps in The VA Claims Process
All VA claims start when a veteran files a claim at his or her local VA Regional Office (VARO), where the claim is initially processed by a Veterans Service representative. In general, if the claim is denied at the VARO level, the veteran has the right to appeal his or her claim to the Board of Veterans Appeals (BVA), and if not successful there, the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims (CAVC) in Washington, D.C.
Getting VA Accredited
In order to assist claimants in the preparation, presentation, and prosecution of claims for VA benefits from the initial application through appeals to the Board of Veterans Appeals, an attorney must be accredited by the VA. To obtain accreditation, an attorney must formally apply with the Office of the General Counsel of the VA.
How to Get Involved
Here is a list of national organizations that can support your efforts to become accredited and provide you with additional training and mentorship.
The Veterans Consortium Pro Bono Program — Provides free training to attorneys who agree to counsel and/or represent a veteran/VA claimant or family member before the Veterans Court. As well as receiving the day-long training, attorneys who participate are assigned a case that has been screened for merit and provided a screening memo outlining the issues in the case.
The National Veterans Legal Service Program — Offers pro bono legal help with disability issues to veterans from all eras. The current pro bono initiative assists veterans with two types of disability claims: applications for Combat Related Special Compensation (CRSC) and applications to the Physical Disability Board of Review for an increase in the military disability rating.
The ABA Military Pro Bono Project — Accepts case referrals from military attorneys on behalf of junior-enlisted, active-duty military personnel and their families with civil legal problems, and it places these cases with pro bono attorneys where the legal assistance is needed.
This list is small and more resources are being developed. If you know of any other pro bono benefits opportunities across the nation or locally, tell us in the comments!