Who can help me file a claim for VA pension, including pension at the aid and attendance or housebound rates?
An individual generally must first be accredited by VA to assist a claimant in the preparation, presentation, and prosecution of a claim for VA benefits—even without charge. VA accredits three types of individuals for this purpose:
Representatives of VA-recognized Veterans service organizations
Independent claims agents
A searchable list of accredited representatives, agents, and attorneys is available at the VA Office of the General Counsel website: http://www.va.gov/ogc/apps/accreditation/index.asp. VA accreditation, which is for the sole and limited purpose of preparing, presenting, and prosecuting claims before VA, is necessary to ensure that claimants for VA benefits have responsible, qualified representation.
VA regulations allow a one-time exception to this general rule, which allows VA to authorize a person to prepare, present, and prosecute one claim without accreditation. The assistance must be without cost to the claimant, is subject to the laws governing representation, and may not be used to evade the accreditation requirements. Preparation and presentation of a VA claim includes, among other things, gathering the information necessary to file a claim for benefits, completing claim applications, submitting claim information to VA, and communicating with VA on behalf of a claimant.
A VA-accredited attorney or claims agent, who is also a financial planner, may assist a claimant with a claim for A&A. However, financial planners may not use their VA accreditation for the purpose of promoting or selling financial products.
Can an accredited attorney or claims agent, who is also a financial planner, charge a fee for preparing a claim for A&A?
No. An accredited attorney or claims agent may generally charge claimants a fee only after an agency of original jurisdiction (e.g., a VA regional office) has issued a decision on a claim, a notice of disagreement has been filed, and the attorney or agent has filed a power of attorney and a fee agreement with VA.
An exception applies when an accredited attorney or claims agent receives a fee or salary from a disinterested third party. A third party is considered disinterested only if the entity or individual would not benefit financially from the successful outcome of the claim.
Some individuals charge a pre-filing “consultation” fee to inform a Veteran or survivor about VA benefits that may be available to them. In certain states, a license to practice law may be required to provide and charge a fee for such “consultations,” which may be considered giving legal advice. Such “consultation” fees are unlawful if they are charged after a Veteran or survivor becomes a VA claimant by expressing to the attorney or agent an intent to file a claim for VA benefits.
A “consultation” fee may not be tied to the outcome of a claim filed with VA if the attorney or agent provides any claims assistance–that is, an attorney or agent cannot agree to refund the fee if, after the attorney or agent assists with a VA claim, VA ultimately denies the claim. Such a fee would amount to an unlawful contingency fee or advance payment for assistance with an application for VA benefits.
VA-recognized Veterans service organizations, including their accredited representatives, are not permitted to receive fees for their services in connection with a VA claim in any instance. If VA determines that an accredited attorney or agent is improperly charging a fee for preparing, presenting, or prosecuting a claim prior to the filing of a notice of disagreement, VA may suspend or cancel the individual’s accreditation.
Is it permissible to offer a guarantee that a claimant will be awarded A&A or that the processing of a claim will be expedited?
No. Such promises are patently misleading because VA is ultimately the adjudicator of claims for VA benefits.
If VA determines that an accredited attorney or agent has misled or deceived a claimant regarding benefits or other rights under programs administered by VA, VA may suspend or cancel the individual’s accreditation.
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