An old saw states, "A person who defends himself has a fool for a lawyer." Along those lines and regardless of its size, a veteran who files a claim on his own is... well, you get the idea. To paraphrase another old saw, "All doctors are equal - it's just that some doctors are more equal than others." When it comes to filing a claim, any and every claim, (I know, I know, what is it that you're claiming and with whom are you filing - another story for another day - but read on, you'll get the "drift"), a veteran should seek the assistance of a Veteran Service Officer, hopefully accredited - they tend to be the "more equal" ones. The "best" way to find one is word-of-mouth. Barring that, it is good to know the process a VSO must go through in order to be, and in some cases remain, accredited.
Accredited By Whom
As in an "Accredited Veterans Service Officer," the term "accredited" has a specific meaning in VA and veteran service organization parlance. Title 38 CFR 14.629 (Huh? Yes, another story.... For the time being suffice it to say our laws-of-the-land (USC - US Code) have "written" about them regulations (CFR - Code / Codification of Federal Regulations) with which we all must comply) provides the general guidance. Accredited generally means the individual has been trained through a VA-approved course of instruction and sponsored by an organization that the VA recognizes (generally chartered by Congress). Furthermore, that the organization has forwarded documentation to the effect that they wish the individual to work on their behalf and that the individual has been properly trained.
Title 38 CFR 14.629 In Part... And Taking a Deep Breath
Title 38 (Pensions, Bonuses, And Veterans' Relief); Chapter I (Department Of Veterans Affairs); Part 14 (Legal Services, General Counsel, And Miscellaneous Claims); Sec. 14.629 (Requirements For Accreditation Of Service Organization Representatives; Agents; And Attorneys). States: Service Organization[s] ...shall file with the Office of the General Counsel for each person it desires accredited as a representative of that organization. In recommending a person, the organization shall certify that the designee: (1) Is of good character and reputation and has demonstrated an ability to represent claimants before the VA; (2) Is either a member in good standing or a paid employee of such organization working for it not less than 1,000 hours annually; and (3) Is not employed in any civil or military department or agency of the United States. Got that. Beginning to see why you DO NOT want to represent yourself.
There Is Training and There Is TRAINING
A well-trained VSO is crucial for veterans applying for benefits from the VA. Many veteran service organizations have individuals that are certified by the VA to provide assistance. The 14 national Veteran Service Organizations that file the most disability claims are listed below. According to a recent survey, these VA-accredited VSOs vary in training and oversight as follows: (1) Accreditation training required; (2) Accreditation test required; (3) Continuing education required.
American Ex-Prisoners of War
: (1) No minimum requirement; provides 8-10 hours voluntary training annually; (2) No; (3) No.
: (1) Standards vary by local branch; offers 48 hours of optional training at national schools; (2) No; (3) One VSO per state must attend national training twice yearly.
: (1) 40 hrs one-on-one training for new VSOs; (2) Yes; (3) Yes - 26 hours annually.
Blinded Veterans Association
: (1) Yes - 70 to 80 hours; (2) Yes; (3) Yes - 70 to 80 hours annually.
Catholic War Veterans
: (1) No minimum requirement; (2) A few local branches may test; (3) No.
Disabled American Veterans
: (1) National VSOs: 16 months OJT training; computer-based training course qualifies for 10 college credit hours. State VSOs: Training varies; (2) Yes; (3) Yes.
Fleet Reserve Association
: (1) Varies; VSOs receive training through other veterans groups; (2) No; (3) No.
Jewish War Veterans
: (1) 32 hrs through the VA; (2) Yes; (3) Yes.
Marine Corps League
: No response to survey.
Military Order of the Purple Heart
: (1) 64 hrs; (2) Yes; (3) Yes.
Non-Commissioned Officers Assn.
: (1) Training varies; most VSOs employed by state or county agencies; (2) No; (3) Varies; VSOs working directly with group must have 11 hrs annually.
Paralyzed Veterans of America
: (1) 16 months OJT; (2) No; (4) Yes - 32 to 36 hours annually.
Veterans of Foreign Wars
: (1) 72 hrs of training during first year of accreditation; (2) No; (3) Yes.
Vietnam Veterans of America
: (1) Requires 40 hrs training for new VSOs, varies for others; (2) Yes; (3) One advanced course every two years.
--- Regards, Walt Schmidt