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Thursday, May 04, 2006

Civil War-era Legal Pay Limit for Vet Claim Help May Be Lifted

This just up at Army Times:

The chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee says it is time to drop a Civil War-era rule that prohibits lawyers from being paid more than $10 to help veterans with benefits claims. Other lawmakers have made similar attempts over the years, but the May 4 announcement by Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, that he was introducing a bill to drop the prohibition marked the first time a veterans’ affairs committee chairman supported the proposal.

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The current law places a limit of $10 on fees that can be paid for legal help given to a veteran filing a VA benefits claim "as long as a claim is handled administratively." Once a claim has been heard by the court and ruled upon (which may occur as much as 3-5 years after the initial filing), only then can a lawyer receive fees in excess of $10. I have to admit, not being a veteran myself, I had no idea this rule even existed!

Additional details:

Today, 85 percent of veterans appealing their initial benefits decision get help from veterans’ service organizations or other nonprofit groups, Craig aides said. Craig is joined in the effort by Sen. Lindsey O. Graham, R-S.C., an Air Force reserve judge who is a member of the veterans’ committee and chairman of military personnel subcommittee of the Senate Armed Services Committee. “This overdue change will significantly improve veterans’ access to the VA and expedite just outcomes,” Graham said in a statement.

Their bill, S 2694, is called the Veterans’ Choice of Representation Act. It would repeal a ban that Craig aides said began when it was possible to become a lawyer without attending law school.

Although discussions have taken place over the years to allow paid legal representation, the federal government and many veterans’ groups have resisted changing what has been viewed as a generally nonadversarial process for filing claims in which benefit of the doubt is supposed to go to a veteran.

Opinion has changed, though, among veterans groups in recent years. Many associations now provide legal representation for members or recommend lawyers when a veteran is dissatisfied with the administrative handling of a case and requests judicial review. “I suppose that some would still warn that lawyers are not to be trusted, but the reality is that the laws are complex and I want veterans to have the option of hiring an attorney to help navigate the system, if they choose,” Craig said.

This bill was also introduced in the House on March 9, 2006 as HR 4914 by Rep. Lane Evans [D-IL] (who recently announced his retirement and will be sorely, sorely missed).

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