Veterans often get their first introduction to the Department of Veterans Affairs when it is time to retire or separate from military service. A VA medical claims briefing is usually part of most final out-processing procedures and many choose to initiate the VA claims process as part of their transition while in the final months of their service commitment.
But the VA system can be tricky for newcomers to navigate, and many feel the need for help in sorting through the forms, requirements, processes, and departments of the VA. That help can take many forms including assistance by a VA-accredited representative.
If you are new to making a claim with the VA, or are new to exploring your benefits, it is definitely worth the time to talk to a VA-accredited representative. (See below to learn where to find one.)
What kind of representatives are available? The Department of Veterans Affairs accredits three basic reps, who must all be recognized by the VA as being qualified to help a veteran “in the preparation, presentation, and prosecution of a claim for VA benefits—even without charge.”
There are three different types of accreditation:
- Representatives of VA-recognized veterans service organizations (VSO)
- Claims agents
Attorneys and claims agents may be accredited individually, but VA does not extend such accreditation to firms.
How To Become A VA Accredited Representative
To start the application process, you must fill out VA Form 21a, Application For Accreditation As A Claims Agent Or Attorney. According to VA guidelines, once the application is received and there has been “an affirmative determination of character and fitness for practice before VA” applicants are tested and must “achieve a score of 75 percent or more on a written examination administered by VA as a prerequisite to accreditation.”
However, there may be different processes depending on which discipline you apply for accreditation in.
For example, according to the VA, “Claims agent applicants will be given written instructions for arranging to take the examination if initial eligibility is established” while “Attorney applicants must be in good standing with a State bar and are not required to take an examination administered by VA as a prerequisite to accreditation.”
When Applying For Accreditation
VA advises applicants to include “a recently dated certificate of good standing from all state bars, courts, or Federal or state agencies to which you are admitted.” There are a series of questions on the form that may require further explanation, be prepared to fully develop the answers to certain questions on the form.
How Long It Takes To Get Accredited
The VA official site states that at press time, there are varying waiting times for approval depending on the discipline. For example, an attorney application may take two months to 120 days to process. Claims agent applications take longer due to additional steps required–up to a full year.
Where To Send Applications
To apply to start to accreditation process, send VA Form 21(a) and all required attachments to:
Office of the General Counsel (022D)
810 Vermont Avenue, NW
You may also submit via fax: (202) 495-5457.
Continuing Education Requirements For VA Reps
Those who are approved and accredited as lawyers or claims agents have continuing education requirements including, but not limited to:
- Three hours of qualifying continuing legal education requirements during the first 12-month period of initial accreditation.
- An additional 3 hours no later than 3 years from accreditation.
- Every 2 years thereafter you must submit a copy of your training certificate to the VA Office of the General Counsel and submit proof of continuing education, AND,
- Provide annual certification of good standing for any court, bar, or Federal or State agency the applicant belongs to.
What Does It Mean To Be VA Accredited?
VA accreditation involves a formal application process, training, and continuing education requirements. There is also a background check and an examination required in order to earn VA accreditation. As you might guess, this process is not a mere formality and requires commitment on the part of both the individual agent and the VA.
According to the VA official site, “Recognized organizations and individuals, whether congressionally chartered VSOs or VA accredited claims agents or attorneys, can legally represent a Veteran, Servicemember, dependent, or survivor before VA.”
Accredited representatives work together with state and federal agencies to help veterans apply for any VA benefits they may be eligible for including:
- VA Compensation
- Education Benefits
- Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (VR&E)
- VA Home Loans
- Life Insurance
- VA Health Care
- VA Burial Benefits
- Fully Developed Claims
Why You May Need A VA Accredited Rep
Those who require assistance to navigate the VA system should know that VA rules do not allow “non-recognized organizations and individuals” to represent you before the VA. They may provide information only, but representation must be made by either the veteran or a VA-accredited person acting on their behalf.
How To Find A VA-Accredited Representative
There are several ways to find a VA-accredited rep. You can visit the official site of Veteran Service Organizations like the USO, DAV, Veterans of Foreign Wars, etc. and request a meeting with one of their accredited reps.
But you don’t have to search through multiple websites thanks to the handy online tool provided at the Department of Veterans Affairs official site. There, you can search for VA accredited reps by city, state, zip code, even the agent’s name if you have one. There is also a search tool on this page that lets you search for VSOs for reps, too.
What Your Accredited Rep Can Do For You
Filing claims on your behalf is only one of the many roles a VA-accredited representative can fill. These agents and their agencies (where applicable) help provide transportation to VA medical care, they provide assistance during natural disasters, they lobby the government on behalf of vets and their families, and much more.
The specific services available to you from a given agency may depend on that agency’s mission, staffing, and goals. These services may also be specific to a certain type of accredited individual such as a lawyer.
Fees For Services Rendered?
Some wonder if they must pay for representation, and the answer depends greatly on where you go to find a rep. If you use a VSO such as the USO, DAV, etc. you may not be charged a fee. But claims agents and attorneys are permitted to charge for their services.
How To Appoint a Representative
If you need to appoint a VA-accredited claim agent, attorney, VSO online you may do so using your eBenefits account. If you wish to do so by mail, fill out VA Form 21-22, Appointment of Veterans Service Organization as Claimant’s Representative and send via U.S. mail to:
Department Of Veterans Affairs
Claims Intake Center
P.O. Box 4444
Janesville, Wi 53547-4444
For best results, do not select your rep until you have spoken with them to make arrangements. It is strongly discouraged to apply to get a rep without doing so.
Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News