Understanding the Requirements for Veterans Affairs Accreditation

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What is Accreditation for Veterans Claims?

Federal law dictates that anyone assisting a veteran in the preparation, presentation and prosecution of an initial claim for veterans benefits requires accreditation authority from the Department of Veterans Affairs. (see 38 USC§ 5901). The only exception to this law is that any one person can help any veteran – one-time only – with a claim. To help any veteran a second time requires accreditation. See (38 CFR§ 14.630 & 38 USC§ 5903).

VA recognizes 3 types of individuals for purposes of accreditation.

Accredited attorneys,
Accredited agents, and
Accredited representatives of service organizations (Veterans Service Officers).

In order to be accredited to help veterans with new claims, an individual desiring this authority from VA must submit a formal application, must meet certain character requirements and work history requirements and, except for attorneys, must pass a comprehensive test relating to veterans claims and benefits. There are also requirements for ongoing continuing education.

There are well over 6,000 accredited attorneys and there are approximately 10,000 accredited representatives of service organizations who are typically called Veterans Service Officers. The most active of these are County Veterans Service Officers who are under the authority of their state Department of Veterans Affairs but are typically paid as county employees.

There are approximately 500 accredited agents and these individuals must study for and pass an exam administered by the VA Office of General Counsel. Most accredited agents have the knowledge and background to handle veterans disability claims.

We urge you to review the rules and standards of conduct from 38 C.F.R. § 14.630-3 for appropriate behavior of accredited individuals.

What Does It Mean to Assist a Veteran with a Claim?

Assisting with a claim means preparing, presenting and prosecuting an application for veterans benefits. Assistance with a claim requires accreditation. Accreditation is required for assistance with any individual who is determined under VA regulations to be a "claimant." A claimant is any individual who has indicated an intent to file a specific claim or claims for benefits . Anyone can talk about veterans benefits in general with any veteran and need not be accredited. The point at which discussion narrows down to specific advice concerning the veteran's service record, medical conditions, financial situation including income and assets and other issues directly relating to a claim specific to a veteran or dependent requires accreditation. Stated again: An individual cannot advise a veteran or other eligible beneficiary about that person's specific claim for VA benefits unless that individual is accredited. It does not matter whether generating paperwork with filing the claim is provided or not. The need for accreditation occurs at a much earlier stage than handling paperwork. For a better understanding of how the Department of Veterans Affairs General Counsel interprets the need for accreditation please read the section at the bottom of this page entitled "What Questions Are Frequently Asked about Accreditation?"

Can a Non-Accredited Individual Assist under the Authority of an Accredited Individual?

Many individuals who are not accredited and who are promoting and helping veterans obtain their benefits are claiming to work a under someone who is accredited. Most of these individuals are doing it wrong and not complying with the law.

Many of these non-accredited individuals are preparing and submitting claims under the name of an accredited attorney or an accredited agent. This is not allowed under the rules. Only accredited individuals may assist with applications Even if non-accredited individuals are sending the final claim to an accredited individual for submission, they may still not be legal. This is because the non-authorized person may become involved in the claim by providing specific claims advice even after an expression of intent to file and in many cases they help submit documents and other pertinent information. As mentioned above, these activities require accreditation. The only way that a non-accredited individual can operate legally to assist someone who is accredited is to immediately refer a veteran or dependent to an accredited individual when first learning about the expression of an intent to file the claim. No additional help or advice may be given.

Many accredited attorneys are also operating illegally by letting their staff or even non-employee associates in the community handle applications on behalf of the attorney. Only an accredited attorney may represent a claimant. Anyone else, inside or outside of the office, cannot assist with the claim except under certain specific and limiting conditions. Specifically, in order to work under an attorney, an assistant must either be a certified paralegal employee in the attorney's office or a law student or an intern in the office. No other arrangement is allowed. However, the non-accredited individuals in a law office are not allowed to represent the claimant. That must be done by the attorney. In addition, the claimant must sign a consent form allowing for this special provision of handling an application and this consent form must be filed with the Office of General Counsel.

We are also seeing examples of non-accredited individuals acting independently of anyone who is accredited or employees for assisted living or home care companies who are told by an attorney they can operate as if they were assisting the attorney in the preparation and presentation of a claim. They think they are operating legally as assistants to the attorney under the rules discussed above. And of course, the attorneys facilitating these arrangements also think they are operating legally. Under the specific rules mentioned above, they are not. Go to Title 38 CFR § 14.629(c), for the specific regulation concerning claims assistance from the staff of accredited attorneys.

What Questions Are Frequently Asked about Accreditation?

See the VA Office of General Counsel Website – va.gov/ogc/accred_faqs.asp