Last month, VT ran a piece on the effort of veterans service organizations impeding veterans from getting legal assistance against the U.S. Dept of Veterans Affairs, an agency ranging from hostile to indifferent to the plight of veterans in a rigged and crooked bureaucratic system.
The fact is there is no unified veterans lobby fighting on behalf of veterans to mitigate a hostile bureaucracy.
Veterans service organizations have been captured by the VA and partisan interests. Groups like Veterans for Common Sense and attorneys like Robert Walsh wage a lonely war on behalf of their clients against the VA, but also against the national veteran service organizations that are part of the problem.
Emblematic is the Disabled American Veterans (DAV) that I say seeks an effective roll-back of legal assistance for veterans after years of working against the right of veterans to obtain legal counsel to fight the VA.
Joseph A. Violante, National Legislative Director of the Disabled American Veterans disagrees with the above sentiment. Mr. Violante’s views on the matter are reprinted below, and I will let them stand without further comment so that the group’s view are heard here. Intelligent disagreement is critical, as is dialogue with the enemy.
By Joseph A. Violante
The column, ‘Attorneys Fight for Veterans Against VA and VSOs’ contains some inaccuracies, which I would like to address.
You claim that the Disabled American Veterans (DAV) is targeting the use of attorneys by veterans. This is absolutely false. While we have a resolution calling for repeal of the law that allows attorneys to charge veterans a fee for services render on claims, DAV is not actively pursuing that goal. DAV does not oppose attorneys assisting veterans with their claims; we are opposed to veterans paying forthose services with their earned disability compensation. It is our firm belief that veterans have already paid for their earned benefits. For your information, DAV has reached out to and been contacted by many law firms and individual attorneys who are helping active duty service members and veterans with claims assistance on a pro bono basis. DAV works closely with these attorneys in identifying active duty service members and veterans who need assistance before Physical Evaluation Boards (PEBs) and the U.S. Courts of Appeal for Veterans’ Claims and Federal Circuit.
The reference to Veterans Service Organizations (VSOs) as the ‘veritable enemy’ couldn’t be further from the truth. Last year alone, DAV National Service Officers were responsible for our clients receiving $4.3 billion in new and retroactive benefits. DAV Transition Service Officers are on military installations providing free TAP and DTAP counseling, as well as assisting with claims work and reviewing files. Our Mobile Service Offices, with state-of-the-art electronic equipment, go out to inner cities and rural areas to provide claims representation to veterans who cannot get to regional offices in person. DAV assists any veteran, his or her dependents and survivors free of charge. Our assistance doesn’t stop there. DAV volunteers help veterans in the hospital, drive veterans to and from their VA medical appointments and assist veterans in their communities with services that include cutting lawns or grocery shopping to name but two. These statistics are hardly the work of an enemy.
Again, the reference to VSOs, and specifically DAV, as ‘part of the problem in denying and delaying veterans [sic] disability claims’ is false. You provide no facts to back up this fallacious allegation. First, I believe the benefits we obtain annually for our clients prove you are mistaken. Second, there is no reason for us to delay a veteran’s benefit claim. Unlike an attorney, our representatives get no fee based on the retroactive payment our client receives. Further, we don’t have the ability or any reason to ‘deny’ our own client’s claim. Finally, DAV and many VSOs and Military Service Organizations have been recently working on a comprehensive plan to improve the VA claims process and speed up decisions, outlined in our National Commander’s recent testimony and other testimony provided over the past two years by national legislative staff.
It is interesting that the link embedded in your article, ‘the Attorneys for Veterans right [sic],’ links to a blog that claims it is ‘independent,’ yet it is littered with ads from attorneys looking for business. The page you link to is from 2007, three years ago.
To support the allegations in the article, ‘Attorneys Fight for Veterans Against VA & VSOs,’ you print a letter from a Mr. Priessman. He starts by claiming: ‘Recently, the DAV, after testimony by its Commander, Roberto Barrera, sought to overturn legislation [Public Law 109-461].’ I have no idea where he got that information, because it is totally unfounded. I would direct your readers and Mr. Priessman to National Commander Barrera’s full written statement (http://www.dav.org/voters/documents/statements/Barrera20100302.pdf), DAV Talking Points (issues provided to our members to raise at their meetings with elected officials) (http://www.dav.org/news/NewsArticle.aspx?ID=219) or a video of Commander Barrera’s oral remarks and answers to questions (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FzLBDFVNhvU (part 1) and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ehZkEhQikNo(part 2)). Nowhere is there any reference to repealing P.L. 109-461, which allows attorney to charge veterans for services. Nowhere is there any mention of attorneys except for DAV’s work with law firms, which provide pro bono services before PEBs and the federal courts. Nor is it clear where he believes we have portrayed ‘attorneys as complete scoundrels’ and ‘veterans as complete dolts.’ DAV employs several attorneys, myself included. DAV’s objection is about attorneys receiving a veteran’s disability compensation as their fee.
There are some veterans or other claimants who believe that they will get better results by using an attorney, but this is simply not borne out by the facts. One need only look at the annual statistics from the Board of Veterans’ Appeals. Annually, attorneys are below the average for allowances. Last year, the average for allowances at the Board was 24 percent. The average allowance rate for attorneys was 22.7 percent. The only group lower than attorneys were unrepresented veterans. Not only did all VSOs come in higher than attorneys, but so did ‘agents’ and ‘other representatives.’ While attorneys do have a higher remand rate and hence a lower denial rate than the averages, there is no way to identify what percent of the remanded cases were for procedural due process reasons and failed to put any money in the veteran’s pocket.
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