Transitioning out of the military can be an overwhelming, stressful experience for veterans. Not only are you likely moving to a new location and providing for your family, but you also may be recovering from a combat situation, and re-learning what life is like in the civilian world. You may need some extra support as you apply for jobs and college, and adjust to not wearing the uniform every day. In addition to these stressors, navigating the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) claims process can be overwhelming. No one – not even the VA – would describe this process as easy.
Should you enlist the help of a Veterans Service Organization (VSO)?
What is a VSO?
Veterans Service Organizations were established to advocate on behalf of veterans and provide veteran-specific resources. Many are federally-chartered (officially recognized by Congress) and are mostly private, non-profit organizations run by volunteers. The federally-chartered designation is especially important when considering using a VSO to help file your claim, as the chartered organizations are also officially recognized by the VA secretary to represent you.
Popular federally-chartered VSOs include American Veterans (AMVETS), Disabled American Veterans (DAV), The American Legion, and Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW). View the complete Directory of Veterans Service Organizations here.
Why use a VSO to help you file a claim?
The majority of VSOs were started by veterans for veterans. So, using a VSO representative means that you will have someone who understands where you’ve been and what you’re up against as you transition out of the military. VSOs also advocate on Capitol Hill for veterans’ benefits, are up to date with current legislation affecting veterans, and have posts conveniently located throughout the country.
How does a VSO help in the VA claims process?
A VSO representative (also known as a Veterans Service Officer) helps you with the preparation, presentation, and prosecution of claims. Once your claim is filed, they track the claim through the VA system, act as liaisons between you and the VA, and are your official representative by acting as your power of attorney (POA). According to the VA, giving a veterans service officer the power of attorney allows an appointed VSO representative to “initiate your claim to preserve an effective start date, gather required records and evidence on your behalf, and review your application prior to submission … a VSO serving as your POA is also given 48 hours to review your VA decision to ensure it is correct before it is sent to you.”
To be an accredited VA representative, individuals must pass an exam, submit to a background check, and take continuing education courses. These recognized organizations and individuals can legally represent you before the VA. Non-recognized individuals are able to provide information, but cannot be your official representative.
What are the costs of using a VSO representative?
Using a VSO to help file your claim is free of charge (barring any unusual expenses). Though they would certainly appreciate it, you do not have to be a member of the organization to use their services and becoming a member is not an expectation.
Do I have to use a VSO for help filing a claim?
No. If you decide not to use a VSO representative, you could use a VA-accredited claims agent or attorney. The downside is that, unlike Veterans Service Organizations, claims agents and attorneys charge for their services. Additionally, you always have the option of filing the claim yourself. If you choose to file yourself, you run the risk of not having your paperwork in order which may cause your claim to be delayed or denied. Here are some tips on filing a disability claim yourself.
If you are interested in getting help filing your claim and need to find an accredited representative in your area, click here to get started.
Kristen Baker-Geczy is a communications specialist, active duty military spouse, and former MWR marketing coordinator. She was also deployed to Southwest Asia as an Air Force contractor.
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