Frequently Asked Questions
1. WHAT WILL MY APPEAL COST ME?
There is no hourly charge to you for our legal services. If we obtain a retroactive award for you, we receive a percentage of that award. That is known as a contingency fee. If we prevail before the Court, VA must pay our legal fees under the law. This does not come from your benefits. If we do not prevail, then we receive no compensation. The only cost you face is the Court filing fee of $50, which can be waived if that presents a financial hardship.
2. WHAT IS YOUR SUCCESS RATE?
The vast majority of claims we take we win. That win may be a remand or a reversal of the RO’s prior decision. But the ultimate goal is an award of future and retroactive benefits.
3. HOW MUCH IS MY CASE WORTH?
Vets can receive retroactive awards ranging from tens of thousands of dollars to hundreds of thousands. These awards are tax-free. The value of your case depends on the facts. However, currently, a 100% rating of service connected disability entitles the veteran to $34,956/year without dependents or additional entitlements.
4. DO YOU PROVIDE UPDATES TO CLIENTS?
Our office will provide periodic updates on the appeal that generally corresponds with documents received or submitted to the Court. It is to be expected that extensions may be obtained by the VA attorney in the proceedings before the Court. Given the large number of cases on appeal, short delays are often necessary to assemble records in any given appeal.
5. DO YOU TAKE TELEPHONE CALLS FROM CLIENTS?
While we welcome your phone calls, our office does represent a large number of clients. Staff members can readily determine the status of your claim. While our staff is willing to take your telephone calls about the status of your case, please do not call to discuss the issues in your case. Attorney time is best utilized by working on the case files, rather than answering questions about the status of a particular appeal.
6. DO YOU RESPOND TO EMAILS FROM CLIENTS?
We prefer emails from clients. This allows us to respond in a timely fashion and have the necessary information available to answer your questions. Feel free to email us.
7. DO YOU WANT ME TO SEND MY ORIGINAL DOCUMENTS?
No. Please do not send us any documents unless we ask you to. We ask that you fax or scan us documents so we can put the digital records in your file on our server. In the event that we do ask you to send in documents, do not send us the originals.
8. SHOULD I USE A SOCIAL SECURITY FIRM FOR MY VA BENEFITS?
We do not think so. You want someone focused on VA benefits. You do not want a firm that fits you in when not working on social security or worker’s compensation or personal injury cases. Our people have a passion for veterans and include retired servicemen and health care professionals. We only care about you and your service to the country.
9. CAN I GET BOTH SOCIAL SECURITY BENEFITS AND VA BENEFITS?
Yes. However, this applies only to SSD benefits and VA compensation benefits. It does not apply to SSI or VA pension benefits. SSI and VA pension benefits are income and asset tested and cannot generally be combined with other benefits.
10. WHY SHOULD I BE REPRESENTED BY AN ATTORNEY?
Veteran’s law is a very complex and ever-changing area of law that very few legal practitioners are willing to undertake. Pursuit of your appeal without experienced legal counsel severely reduces your prospects for success before the Court. Over 75% of all cases resolved at Court in 2008 were represented by legal counsel.
11. DOES MY LAWYER NEED TO BE IN WASHINGTON, D.C.?
It is important to remember that the US Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims is unique in conducting business through pleadings filed electronically and in its use of telephone conferences. Therefore your attorney doesn’t need to be from Washington, D.C.
12. HOW DO I HIRE AN ATTORNEY?
This requires that you enter into a written agreement between yourself and our firm. The agreement will provide the terms of that representation and inform you as to the basis for payment of legal fees and costs.
13. WHAT IS THE U.S. COURT OF APPEALS FOR VETERANS CLAIMS
It is a special court with exclusive jurisdiction to hear appeals arising from an unfavorable decision by the Board of Veterans’ Appeals. This Court has limited jurisdiction. It reviews the processes followed by VA in the prior adjudication of your claim and determines if it was according to law. The Court will not consider evidence that was not before the Board when the decision was rendered. When error is uncovered, the Court remands, or sends a matter back, to VA for correction of errors. A remand, therefore, is the remedy to expect from the Court.
14. WHAT IS THE PROCESS AT COURT?
The initial part of your appeal will involve establishing the official Record to be considered by the Court. After the Record has been filed, a conference will be scheduled with the VA attorney to discuss errors noted in the prior litigation of your claim in an attempt to have your case remanded at its earliest opportunity. If VA does not concede to error, we will be required to submit a brief that outlines the legal bases for error. The VA then would have 60 days to respond with its brief. Once the matter gets assigned to a judge, we can expect another 9 – 12 months for a decision.
15. HOW LONG WILL MY CASE TAKE COURT?
The VA ROs, BVA and Court have a substantial backlog of cases. It takes many months just to get the record ready. Do not be surprised if it takes over a year for a decision. Our goal is to keep your case on track and get your appeal back to VA for correction of errors at the earliest opportunity and press for a favorable decision. We do this through telephone negotiations with the VA attorneys in an attempt to shorten the appeal period.
16. HOW DO I CONTACT THE VA FOR A STATUS UPDATE ON MY CLAIM?
Go to www.VA.gov and click on the “Contact VA” link at the top of the home page.
17. HOW DO I FILE A CLAIM FOR BENEFITS?
By completing and mailing to your local VA Regional Office VA Form 21-526, Veterans Application for Compensation and/or Pension. Attach any supportive evidence, such as medical records to the application. You may request the form be sent to you by calling 1-800-827-1000 or your may print a copy from the VA website, www.VA.com. You can also apply online at www.VA.gov.
19. HOW CAN I FIND OUT ABOUT OTHER BENEFITS THAT MAY BE AVAILABLE TO ME AND/OR MY FAMILY?
Contacting your local VA Regional Office, 1-800-827-1000 or by logging onto www.VA.gov
20. WHY WOULD I ACCEPT A REMAND FROM THE COURT?
A remand by the Court is beneficial in several regards. First, it vacates the prior Board decision as if it did not occur and allows another review of your case. Second, it preserves the original filing date of this appeal. Next, it allows the submission of new evidence, something that cannot be done at Court.
21. HOW DO I GET AN EARLIER EFFECTIVE DATE FOR MY DISABILITY?
VA assigns an effective date as the date on which the granted claim was filed. There are some important exceptions to this rule. One exception involves CUE claims and another involves a claim which is granted based on newly discovered service department records. If a claim for service connection has been denied for years and is then granted when new unit records are discovered, the regulations require that the VA consider an effective date back to the time when the first claim was filed.
22. CAN I REOPEN AN OLD CLAIM?
Veterans’ disability claims, once decided and not appealed, become final and binding. There are two basic ways in which a finally decided claim determination may be challenged. The first is by the use of Clear & Unmistakable Error. The other process is of reopening a finally decided claim by the use of “new and material evidence”. Generally, the vet is trying to reopen a denial of a “service connection” for his claimed disability.
If the veteran is seeking to increase the amount of a disability rating percentage, the remedy is to file a claim seeking to increase the disability percentage. The veteran in this case is not reopening the claim. New and material evidence is a high legal threshold. If the VA determines the evidence is both “new” and “material”, the VA will reopen the claim. That is not to say it will eventually grant the claim. It is just that the veteran is given the chance to once again prove the merits of his or her claim.
23. WHAT IS CUE?
CUE stands for Clear and Unmistakable Error. CUE is a legal argument that a VA decision was wrong. If the claim is successful, benefits are paid by the VA all the way back to when the denied claim was filed.
The required legal proof is very high for a CUE claim. It is not enough to show that the VA decision was wrong. The veteran is required to show that the regulations and facts which were in the Case File at the time of the prior decision could lead only to one conclusion and the VA got the wrong conclusion. The court is very strict about CUE claims and, while these claims do get granted, they are not granted very often.
24. WHAT IS TDIU?
TDIU stands for Total Disability based on Individual Unemployability. It is also called IU and Unemployability. TDIU is based on a regulation that allows veterans who have less than a 100% schedular rating to receive 100% disability pay where the veteran’s service connected disability causes a total inability to work. In order to qualify for this rating, the veteran must have one service connected of 60% or a combination of ratings totaling 70% with one of the included ratings being at least 40%. Once these rating qualifications are met, the veteran is entitled to the benefit if he or she can show that the service connected disability has caused a total inability to work.
25. How do I get a copy of my DD214?
You can request copies of military personnel records, including your DD214 by going to www.vetrecs.archives.gov