Do You Need Help Filing a VA Disability Claim?
Do you need help filling out a VA claim application form? If so, plenty of third-party agencies offer to help; everyone from the DAV to the VFW offers assistance.
But those agencies aren’t the only ones; there are also third-party companies offering to help. Unfortunately, some of these companies don’t mind charging exorbitant fees to “help” veterans send applications to the VA. Some companies try to pretend they are VA-accredited; others don’t even bother.
How do these companies get to charge you for services that are offered for free by others?
The VA Disability Claim Process
When filing a VA disability claim, it’s natural to feel overwhelmed and seek a third party’s help. According to VA.gov, there are three types of VA-accredited representatives:
- Veterans Service Organization (VSO) representatives
- VA-accredited attorneys
- VA-accredited agents
These reps “ensure that claimants have access to responsible and qualified representation on their VA benefits claims.” To be VA-accredited, the representatives “must have good moral character and be capable of providing competent representation.”
But these agents are not the only ones who try to file on behalf of veterans who need help. Some offer their services without going thru the VA accreditation process.
VA.gov says those who do not have authorization to “prepare, present, or prosecute VA benefits claims, or hold themselves out as being authorized to do so, are in violation of Federal law.”
The VA Office of General Counsel has a searchable list of VA-recognized organizations and VA-accredited people authorized “to assist in the preparation, presentation, and prosecution of VA benefit claims.”
Learn more: What are Veteran Service Organizations?
Why the Warning?
Nearly 300 complaints were sent to the VA Office of General Counsel between 2018 and 2022. Of that number, some 40% were complaints related to unaccredited people or agencies filing on behalf of veterans.
An article published by KFF Health News includes some troubling numbers. One case involving a third party known as Trajector Medical required the applicant to pay Trajector Medical “the equivalent of five times the amount of any increase” in the applicant’s monthly VA compensation.
KFF Health News reported that one applicant received a 10% VA rating for tinnitus; Trajector Medical billed the applicant more than $800, five times the 10% VA award amount.
Another case KFF Health News reported on involved Veterans Guardian VA Claim Consulting, calling that agency “another unaccredited company” with billing practices “similar” to Trajector Medical, charging clients “equal to five months’ worth of any benefits increase they receive.”
It is important to remember that these are fees charged for things a veteran could do independently and without help if they so choose.
Are You Required to Pay for a VA Disability Claim?
VA.gov reminds us that VA-recognized VSOs and their representatives “always provide their services on benefit claims free-of-charge.”
But VSOs and Veteran Service Officers aren’t the only people who can file a VA claim on your behalf. VA.gov says a VA-accredited lawyer “may charge you a fee for their representation in appealing or requesting an additional review of an adverse VA decision.”
Furthermore, “Only VA-accredited attorneys and claims agents may charge you fees for assisting in a claim for VA benefits, and only after VA has issued an initial decision on the claim and they have complied with the power-of-attorney and the fee agreement requirements.”
What to Do If You Hired a Third Party But Changed Your Mind
Did you know VA rules allow you to discharge your attorney, claims agent, or VSO representative at any time and for any reason?
All you have to do is let the VA know in writing. Replace your representative with a new one using VA Form 21-22, Appointment of Veterans Service Organization as Claimant’s Representative, or VA Form 21-22a, Appointment of Individual as Claimant’s Representative with VA.
Did Your VSO, Agent, or Attorney Act Unethically?
If you feel a VA-accredited representative acted unethically, lodge a formal complaint with the VA Office of General Counsel. Get more information on filing a complaint.
About the author
Editor-in-Chief Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter/editor for Air Force Television News and the Pentagon Channel. His freelance work includes contract work for Motorola, VALoans.com, and Credit Karma. He is co-founder of Dim Art House in Springfield, Illinois, and spends his non-writing time as an abstract painter, independent publisher, and occasional filmmaker.