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"Representing Veterans Requires Diligent Advocacy!"

by Richard K. Hurley, Jr.
Copyright 2013


        Any attorney who has represented veterans seeking compensation and benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) realizes early in the process that it requires skillful and diligent advocacy.  Although the VA would maintain that it is not an adversarial system and that it is available to the veteran to assist them in their desire to obtain just and reasonable compensation for service connected injuries, the VA system is not set up with that philosophy in mind.  In general terms, the duty to assist means telling veterans what is basically needed to document their claims; making reasonable efforts to get records; and, in most cases obtaining a VA medical exam (Compensation and Pension or C & P Exam) to establish service - connection and extent of disability.  This is the basic principle. Unfortunately, the specifics get more complicated, with the statutes, regulations and case law continuing to evolve every year. 

        There is also the practical aspect of the litigation that is problematic.  Oftentimes, an attorney will inherit a case that was previously handled by a Veterans Service Officer (VSO) who lacks the skill and experience to handle the filing of a claim on behalf of a veteran.  While a routine or simple case might not be difficult for a VSO, many of the claims are complicated and require reviewing numerous military and medical records in order to assert a viable claim.  It may require obtaining medical expert opinions or preparing factual statements on behalf of the veteran or their witnesses.  All of this material is evidence that must be presented to the Regional Office handling the claim. 

        Another problem facing the attorney representing a veteran lies within the VA itself.  There are two distinct bodies within the VA: the medical unit and the claims unit.  The medical unit is charged with doing the C & P exams, to evaluate veterans for claims, such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and other injuries that are service connected.  The attorney relies upon these exams to be accurate and reliable.  Unfortunately, the personnel providing these exams are not as reliable as someone would hope.  After years of working within the VA system, these personnel often become tired and jaded by the system.  A  psychiatrist who worked in the VA system for years and now maintains a private practice representing veterans recently said, "The unwritten philosophy within the VA is to instruct the medical unit not to talk to do not have the time to develop a veterans' case and do not follow up with them...just stick to working the numbers.  Soon the medical practitioners burn out and become cynical and push back on the veterans...sort of 'kick the dog' syndrome." 

        Then there is the claims unit which is "bogged down" with the burdensome task of processing all the claims.  It is well-known that a claim filed with the VA can take years for a decision to be reached.  If the person representing the veteran fails to properly develop and present the claim then it could be denied, and then the veteran might have to file an appeal.  An attorney may take over a case previously filed for a veteran by someone who was not qualified to handle the case and then pick up the pieces and file an appeal.  In short, anyone who handles VA litigation must realize that this is an important area of the law that requires as much skill and advocacy as any other area of the law and it affects men and women who sacrificed greatly for their country.


Cory & Hurley Law Group, P.L.
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