Legal Assistance for America's Heroes


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State Bar of Georgia Annual Meeting, June 2008

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Legal Assistance for America's Heroes

  1. 1. Legal Assistance for America’s Heroes June 2008 George E. Bradford, Jr. Attorney Office of Regional Counsel Department of Veterans Affairs
  2. 2. Training Outline <ul><li>Purpose </li></ul><ul><li>Introduction </li></ul><ul><li>Accreditation </li></ul><ul><li>Agent and Attorney Fees </li></ul><ul><li>Power of Attorney </li></ul><ul><li>Improper Conduct </li></ul><ul><li>Questions </li></ul>
  3. 3. Update: Veterans Benefits Claims <ul><li>1. Purpose </li></ul>
  4. 4. Purpose <ul><li>The purpose of this training is to — </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Familiarize you with the Veterans Benefits Claims process. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Introduce you with the new federal law (Public Law 109-461) and the new VA regulations that implement it. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>To ensure that claimants for veterans benefits have responsible, qualified representation. </li></ul></ul>
  5. 5. Purpose <ul><li>What is the role of the Attorney Fee Coordinator (AFC)? </li></ul><ul><li>An AFC is an expert on fee matters and is responsible for </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Overseeing </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>All attorney fee cases, and </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Payment of attorney fees within the RO, and </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Serving as liaison for attorney fee matters between the </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Compensation and Pension Service, Board of Veterans’ Appeals, and other ROs, and </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>RO and agents and attorneys on all matters. </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><li>Each RO has an AFC or unit appointed by the Veterans Service Center Manager. (M21-1MR, Part I, Ch. 3, Sec. C) </li></ul>
  6. 6. Purpose <ul><li>AFCs are in a unique position with regards to </li></ul><ul><li>representation before VA because they: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Monitor attorney and agent practice before VA; </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Are involved in the payment of attorney and agent fees; </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Serve as a liaison between VA and attorneys and agents; and </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Serve as a &quot;gatekeeper&quot; for unauthorized, unlawful, and unethical attorney and agent representation. </li></ul></ul>
  7. 7. Update: Veterans Benefits Claims <ul><li>2. Introduction </li></ul>
  8. 8. Introduction <ul><li>38 U.S.C. chapter 59 and 38 C.F.R. parts 1, 14, and 20 govern VA's accreditation program, under which VA accredits VSO representatives, agents, and attorneys. </li></ul><ul><li>On December 22, 2006, in section 101 of Public Law 109-461, Congress amended Chapter 59. </li></ul><ul><li>To implement the new law, VA published a notice of proposed rulemaking in May 2007. </li></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Received 44 comments </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Final rule under review at OMB (publish this month) </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Effective 30 days after publication </li></ul></ul></ul>
  9. 9. Introduction <ul><li>The Office of the General Counsel (OGC) manages VA's </li></ul><ul><li>accreditation program. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>To ensure that claimants for benefits have responsible, qualified representation in the preparation, presentation, and prosecution of claims for veterans' benefits. 38 C.F.R. § 14.626. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>New definition: &quot;Representation&quot; means the acts associated with representing a claimant in a proceeding before VA pursuant to a properly executed and filed VA Form 21-22, Appointment of Veterans Service Organization as Claimant's Representative, or VA Form 21-22a, Appointment of Individual of as Claimant's Representative. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>38 C.F.R. §§ 20.609 and 20.610 (fees and expenses) moved to 38 C.F.R. §§14.636 and 14.637 . You may generally refer to 38 C.F.R. part 14 for the law on representation before the Department. </li></ul></ul>
  10. 10. Introduction <ul><li>OGC's authority to regulate representation is limited to proceedings before VBA and the Board of Veterans' Appeals. VA has no authority to regulate representation of claimants before any court. </li></ul><ul><li>OGC does not have authority over individuals who are not accredited. </li></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Repeal of 38 U.S.C. § 5905 criminal penalty </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Example: unauthorized preparation of claims </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>OGC’s response </li></ul></ul></ul>
  11. 11. Update: Veterans Benefits Claims <ul><li>3. Accreditation </li></ul>
  12. 12. Accreditation <ul><li>Why is the subject of accreditation important to an AFC? </li></ul><ul><ul><li>With one exception, only accredited individuals can represent claimants before VA. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Only accredited agents and attorneys may charge fees. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>In accrediting individuals, VA holds them out to veterans as competent and qualified to provide representation. If VA receives information to the contrary, it is obligated to investigate and, when necessary, cancel or suspend accreditation as appropriate. </li></ul></ul>
  13. 13. Accreditation <ul><li>Statutory authority : </li></ul><ul><ul><li>No individual may act as an agent or attorney in the preparation, presentation, and prosecution of claims before VA without first being “recognized” (accredited) by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs (38 U.S.C. § 5901). </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>The Secretary may “recognize” (accredit) representatives of recognized VSOs for purposes of preparation, presentation, and prosecution of claims before VA (38 U.S.C. § 5902). </li></ul></ul>
  14. 14. Accreditation <ul><ul><li>New regulations : Agents and attorneys must apply to OGC for accreditation on a modified VA Form 21a ( § 14.629) . </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Old regulations: Attorneys did not apply for accreditation. </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>In the near future, OGC will post searchable information concerning individuals’ accreditation status on its website at http:// . In the interim, OGC’s Professional Staff Group II can provide you with the accreditation status of a particular individual. Call 202-461-7699 or email </li></ul></ul>
  15. 15. Accreditation <ul><li>Definitions : </li></ul><ul><ul><li>&quot;Representative&quot; means a person who has been recommended by a recognized organization and accredited by VA ( § 14.627) . </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>&quot;Recognition&quot; means VA certification of an organization to represent claimants (§ 14.628). </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>&quot;Accreditation&quot; means the authority granted by VA to representatives, agents, and attorneys to assist claimants in the preparation, presentation, and prosecution of claims for VA benefits (§ 14.629). </li></ul></ul>
  16. 16. Update: Veterans Benefits Claims <ul><li>7. Questions </li></ul>