David Huffman: Veterans deserve representation for claims
A Veterans Administration policy is adversely affecting veterans because it does not allow them to choose their own representation in VA matters from start to finish. That policy needs to change.
I am an attorney who helps veterans. I enlisted at the age of 19 and served in the Marines in the Vietnam War. I was blinded in combat and received a Purple Heart. Since I finished my education and law school, I have passionately helped disabled veterans get the VA benefits they earned.
As a legal advocate for disabled veterans, I am dismayed by the staggering statistics: of the 1.6 million returning veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, nearly one-half of them have at least one war-related injury.
The sad thing about these numbers is these veterans and others don't receive VA benefits because they either don't apply or they get frustrated by the complex claims process and quit pursuing their claims before completion of their appeals.
Unfortunately for attorneys, there is not a level playing field. Attorneys like me are specifically precluded from accepting donations or up-front fees for helping veterans before any claim is on appeal.
In 2007 the VA changed its regulations so attorneys can only receive compensation for claims on appeal.
It followed with regulations barring donations prior to an appeal. What this means is an attorney like me ends up working for free in order to possibly be paid later for claims that are not on appeal.
Under current law an attorney receives 20 percent from the veteran's retroactive reward when there is a favorable decision only for claims that are on appeal when the attorney represents the veteran for those claims.
This process discourages more attorneys from participating in VA disability claims and frankly, some attorneys choose to only work on appealed issues because it's less expensive for them under the current law.
The veteran is the one that is hurt more than the attorney because he may end up being thrown under the bus for issues that aren't on appeal because of the law.
If the veteran is dissatisfied, as many are with the traditional state or veterans' organization representation from start to finish, he has no alternative under the current law.
I strongly believe veterans have the Constitutional right to enter into an agreement to have an attorney or other professional represent them from start to finish and handle all of their claims, regardless of how many disability issues surface or how long it takes without any Constitutional or ethical issues.
Because this VA policy is a business fairness issue for me, and more importantly, a policy that adversely affects veterans, I am working to publicly advocate for change.
With the help of others who share my view, including many veterans, we have formed a nationwide nonprofit veterans membership organization, called Vets for Full Representation Inc. VFFR is based in Parkersburg.
We are speaking with our West Virginia congressional delegation and we hope to secure their support for introducing legislation to effect this change.
I invite you to visit the website, www.vets4fullrepresentation.com.
I considered it a high privilege to have honorably served my country in combat. I am equally honored to serve other disabled veterans now through my law practice and through the nonprofit organization.
Veterans who served deserve to be heard. They deserve the right to full representation now.
David L. Huffman is a Parkersburg attorney and board member for Vets for Full Representation.