Should You Pay for Help with a VA Claim?
The Department of Veterans Affairs and the Federal Trade Commission issue scam warnings occasionally, but it seems rare that such warnings would involve a specific brand. And some of these warnings aren’t aimed at consumers but rather at a company offering services to those consumers.
According to an article by the Texas Tribune, that’s exactly what the VA Office of General Counsel did in 2019, when it contacted a company called VA Claims Insider to notify it that the company may be illegally representing those making VA claims. News of that outreach is surfacing again at press time, raising important questions about whether or not veterans should pay for such third-party services.
The company in question operates to this day, but some veterans are unaware of the negative headlines related to their services. And government agencies warn consumers to exercise due caution when considering any other company offering to help you file VA claims…for a fee.
Making a VA claim to be compensated for service-connected medical issues can be daunting. There is a lot of paperwork, forms to gather, evidence to submit, names and dates to remember from years past…it can be intimidating to file a VA claim.
Enter the veteran service organization, also known as a VSO, and Accredited Representatives trained in VA procedures offering to help veterans and their families submit VA claims properly.
According to VA.gov, “The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) accredits three types of representatives—Veterans Service Organization (VSO) representatives, attorneys, and agents—to help ensure that claimants have access to responsible and qualified representation on their VA benefits claims.”
VA.gov adds that to be an accredited VSO representative, you must be recommended for accreditation by a VSO recognized by VA. But the most important information from the VA on this issue is the following:
“Beware unaccredited individuals who prepare, present, or prosecute VA benefit claims, or hold themselves out as being authorized to do so, are in violation of Federal law.”
According to the VA Office of General Counsel, VA Claims Insider may be in violation, but representatives of the company disagree, saying the agency does not actually prepare the claims but instead offers “education” about the process.
Related: Veteran and Retiree Benefits
What is VA Claims Insider?
The Texas Tribune article quotes a VA Claims Insider spokesperson explaining that VA Claims Insider features a paid membership program for veterans who need help making VA claims, having adverse VA decisions appealed, submitting new evidence, and other processes. An estimated 25 thousand veterans have paid the company for such assistance.
But not all, according to multiple sources, are satisfied with what they paid for.
One veteran has gone on the record claiming VA Claims Insider charged them for approximately $10,000 “for about six hours of coaching, some of which included watching pre-recorded online informational sessions with as many as 400 other attendees at a time” according to the Texas Tribune.
In a separate case, another veteran claimed to have paid around $8000 for two hours of assistance. A third complaint against the company alleges that services provided were “disorganized” and didn’t deliver as promised.
VA Claims Insider responded to some of those allegations.
But that does not change the fact that the VA Office of General Counsel reached out to the company (see above) with a letter the Texas Tribune says advises VA Claims Insider it “may be engaged in illegal activities…”
Those activities include “the unauthorized representation of claimants for VA benefits and charging them for your service,” and warning the company to “cease any and all illegal activities.”
What VA Claims Insider Says
The VA Claims Insider official site states the following:
“VA Claims Insider is not accredited. VA Claims Insider is not an accredited VSO, claims agent, attorney, or entity recognized by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and is not affiliated with the VA in any way.”
The company further hedges, stating, “VA Claims Insider does not assist veterans with the preparation, presentation, or prosecution of VA disability claims for VA benefits.”
Veterans are expected to “prepare and file their own claim or work with an accredited representative”.
What does VA Claims Insider charge its subscribers to do? According to the official site, it provides information about VA disability benefits, medical evidence requirements, and information to help veterans increase their VA disability rating where applicable.
What To Know
The VA Claims Insider position that it is an education company and does not provide help filling out forms.
However, the Texas Attorney General has made statements about investigating VA Claims Insider for deceptive acts related to filing claims with the VA.
The Texas Tribune notes VA Claims Insider conducted its own internal audit, but that hasn’t stopped complaints to the Federal Trade Commission or the Better Business Bureau.
And then there’s the document the Texas Tribune reports was submitted to the Texas attorney general, noting a 2017 video where a VA Claims Insider representative says that, for the right price, “we do your entire disability claim for you.” That video, according to the Tribune, has since disappeared.
That’s not to imply that VA Claims Insider is currently involved in such activities, but it’s an important detail to note if you are considering paying any third party a fee for the assistance you can otherwise get for free.
Free Help From the Department of Veterans Affairs
- If you need help with a VA claim or understanding your benefits, don’t go to a third party first. Instead, use eBenefits.va.gov to find a Veterans Service Officer. You will have access to free help by doing so.
- You do not need to pay for help to learn about your benefits. You don’t have to pay a third party a dime to access the VA’s official how-to page to determine VA benefits eligibility.
- You do not need to pay a third party to learn how to gather or submit the right kind of medical evidence for your VA claim; you do not need to pay a third party to learn how to apply for additional benefits.
The VA official site warns, “VA-recognized VSOs, and their representatives, always provide their services on benefit claims free-of-charge.” A VA-accredited attorney can charge a fee to represent you for an appeal or review of a VA decision.
And, as the official site says, “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.”
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.