While most Veterans are entitled to care through the federal Department of Veterans Affairs, obtaining benefits can be an exercise in frustration. Claims are regularly denied, sometimes for seemingly arbitrary or frivolous reasons. Even with recent procedural changes, many intended to improve the department’s quality of care, appealing a decision can take months—sometimes years.
Since most Veterans expect any interaction with the Department of Veterans Affairs to involve some measure of red tape, many American heroes proactively protect their rights by retaining experienced legal counsel. However, in recent years, dozens of companies—sometimes positing themselves as “coaches” or “consultants”—have begun targeting Veterans, offering assistance with claims despite having no formal training or practical expertise.
Your Rights With an Accredited Veterans Law Firm
The Department of Veterans Affairs runs a wide range of programs, providing education opportunities, rehabilitative services, and health care benefits to active-duty servicepeople, retired Veterans, and their family members.
Nevertheless, the Department of Veterans Affairs has a well-deserved reputation for operating an opaque bureaucracy. Before, during, and after filing a claim, Veterans are expected to:
- Find and file the right forms online or through the mail.
- Locate and submit their medical records.
- Furnish evidence supporting service-related injury and disability claims.
Since legislators have long since recognized that simply filing a claim for benefits can be both time-consuming and difficult, Congress has authorized thousands of third-party providers—ranging from non-profit organizations to claims agencies and Veterans law attorneys—to offer assistance.
All of these providers are bound by strict rules. They cannot charge you to file an initial claim, and they cannot bill exorbitant rates to provide additional services.
How Unaccredited Companies Can Take Away Your Rights
Many recently-established “consulting” and “coaching” companies are not bound by the strict rules of conduct that legal professionals must follow. In fact, many of these agencies employ no licensed attorneys and regularly demand that Veterans sign contracts agreeing to forward a significant percentage of any awarded benefits to their so-called “coach.”
You may be at risk if you have contacted, or been contacted by, a company that advertises any of the following:
Veterans’ consultants and coaches sometimes promise prospective clients convenient workarounds. Since they are not accredited by the Department of Veterans Affairs, they may say they are not subject to federal rules regulating how and when claims, forms, and petitions should be filed. Sometimes these claims are underlain by some measure of truth—if a company is unaccredited, it really may not have to adhere to the same rules as accredited service providers.
However, this does not mean these services are better equipped to investigate claims or resolve disputes. Under many circumstances, these companies abuse their position to coerce Veterans into unfavorable agreements, disappearing if a claim fails or arguing that they cannot be held liable for simply providing assistance, no matter how poor their service may have been.
Fast Claims Resolutions
A dishonest coaching or consulting company may make the following types of promises:
- A coach could tell you that they can resolve a claim faster than an attorney or a non-profit organization.
- A consulting firm might say they can bypass filing deadlines or expedite an appeal.
- A company may claim that it has “connections” with the Department of Veterans Affairs.
However, the Department of Veterans Affairs' internal recordkeeping officials have found that consulting and coaching firms offer no practical advantage in terms of resolution times.
Unusual Fee Structures
Since Veterans coaching and consulting companies operate on the edge of the law, they may provide fee structures vastly different from licensed law firms. A consultancy could, for instance, ask for payment up-front, or create a contract obliging you to forfeit an amount equivalent to your first four, five, or six benefits payments.
While these fee structures can seem convenient, they are not legal, and they can leave Veterans in a weak financial position, especially if their claim fails or they are forced to file an appeal.