What Hope do Military Veterans Making Claims for Benefits Have?
What hope do military veterans have for their devastating injuries? They have a hard road to travel. Benefits will be denied if the extensive proof of injury and connections between service and injury aren't made. Making it harder for veterans to succeed is a Civil War law preventing attorneys from charging fees for representing veterans against the VA until after the veterans have exhausted years of appeal. They are deprived of solid legal help while they deal with mounting bills.
Their battle with the VA is staggering to them and to us as a nation. Those who serve to protect us must themselves be protected. Many veterans wait years to seek benefits because they don't recognize that their ailments were caused by something that happened during service. This is particularly true in the chemical exposure cases. A good approach is to work backward by looking at the veteran's conditions, then asking if there's a link between the ailment and something that happened in service.
The claim process usually starts with veterans' advocates called service representatives or service officers. These laymen represent veterans free of charge. They work through the American Legion, the VFW, or a group called the Disabled American Veterans. Rarely are they attorneys, but they are trained by their service organizations. If a veteran's claim is denied at a regional VA office, the veteran can appeal to the Board of Veteran's Appeals. If denied there, the veteran can hire an attorney for representation before the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims.
Some of the lay advocates from the service organizations are good. Some aren't. The difference can be dramatic. For example, any wartime veteran who goes into a nursing home is typically entitled to a non-service-connected pension. Poor legal representation will get them $800 per month. Good legal representation will transform that into up to $2,400 a month. A big difference.