What Are Veteran Service Organizations?
A Veteran Service Organization (VSO) is an organization that is meant to serve veterans by helping them understand and claim VA benefits, seek employment, and readjust to civilian life. Many VSOs are operating on behalf of U.S. veterans; the DAV, VFW, AmVets, and many other familiar names all fall under the definition of a VSO.
VA-accredited VSOs can help you for free. VA.gov reminds us of some important basic concepts about VSOs and related fees for using them:
- VA-recognized VSOs, and their representatives, always provide their services on benefit claims for free.
- VA-accredited agents and lawyers may charge fees for representation when “appealing or requesting additional review of an adverse VA decision.”
- You should also know, “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 a Veteran Service Organization Can Help You Do
You can get help from a VSO to request information about VA benefits, including GI Bill and VA mortgage options, but also:
- Veteran Readiness and Employment (VR&E)
- Life insurance
- VA Pension
- VA Health care
- VA Burial benefits
A Veteran Service Organization can assist you in submitting claims, gathering supporting documentation, filing a claim or an appeal for you. In some cases, added support like transportation to VA appointments or other assistance may be offered. Each VSO has different options.
You can use a VSO to complete VA application forms for benefits, request more information about your benefits, appeal a VA decision that didn’t go in your favor, and many other options.
Finding a Veteran Service Organization is as easy as a Google search, but when looking online, be sure to include the search term “VA accredited VSO” (see below) for better results.
In addition to offering help navigating the Department of Veterans Affairs system, some VSOs may offer additional benefits or services; you may have access to certain veteran GI Bill education or employment benefits offered by that organization.
Accredited Representatives and Federal Charters
Some VSOs (not all) offer the assistance of VA-accredited Veteran Service Officers. Those who are accredited have been submitted by their agency to the VA Office of General Counsel for review. Accredited VSOs typically have received training and meet a set of requirements for consideration. There is also continuing education required for all accredited VSOs.
Not all Veteran Service Organizations use accredited Veteran Service Officers. Those that do cannot charge fees in association for this assistance. This rule is necessary as VSOs are typically private enterprises and not operated by the federal government. Some agencies may not have their own officers, but refer their clients to an accredited representative.
Why use an accredited representative? They have been given training, are required to pass an exam, and there is no question of the fees associated with using one as they are not allowed to charge you for services rendered.
According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, becoming an accredited VSO requires the following:
- Pass an exam
- Submit to a background check
- Take continuing education courses to maintain the accreditation
Recognized VSOs are allowed to “legally represent” a veteran, service member, dependent, or survivor for VA claims and services. “Non-recognized organizations and individuals can provide information” according to the VA official site, but they cannot serve the same as an accredited representative.
Federally Chartered VSOs
Some VSOs are federally chartered, meaning they are “recognized or approved by the VA Secretary” for preparing, presenting, and following VA claims submitted on behalf of veteran clients. Being chartered typically requires the passage of a new law announcing the charter.
A federal charter is not necessarily an endorsement, but to some, it indicates that the agency in question has a track record with the Department of Veterans Affairs.
As Congress.gov reminds us, “VSOs are not federal agencies. VSOs may be nonprofit organizations or state, county, tribal, or local government agencies. Employees who work for VSOs are not federal employees.”
Recognized Veterans Service Organizations?
A “recognized VSO” has met federal requirements used by the Department of Veterans Affairs. Recognized VSOs may be national agencies, state-level, or local operations. These VSOs are not listed by name in the federal guidelines that govern them, and the list may be expanded at the convenience of the federal government. What does it take to be federally recognized?
First, the organization’s primary purpose is to serve veterans.
In addition, the VSO must:
- Show a commitment to serving veterans via a “sizeable organizational membership”
- Have a significant “performance of veterans services”
- Commit a “significant portion” of the agency’s assets toward serving veterans
- Submit proof that it represents veterans or can show them how to get representation
Some federal funding options may be available, but VSOs are also funded privately, through grants, or even through state or local governments. The Department of Veterans Affairs chooses to offer funds to individual veterans rather than agencies. Still, it may make grants to both veterans and VSOs, depending on the nature of the program.
What to Know About VSOs
Some agencies work closely with the Department of Veterans Affairs enough to warrant listing on their official site. These are typically national VSOs such as the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Disabled American Veterans, Paralyzed Veterans of America, AMVETS, and Vietnam Veterans of America.
You can typically find a list of VSOs in your area at your state government official site or your state-level Department of Veterans Affairs (not the federal agency of the same name).
Where to Find A VSO
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.