Hey everyone, Allen Gumpenberger with Gumps VA Compensation. The Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) has been made aware of recent, extremely concerning predatory practices that have been conducted by individuals or organizations who propose to act as representatives to assist Veterans with claims for VA benefits.
Per 38 U.S.C. 5904(d), any individual or corporation that furnishes representation in connection with a claim before VA and receives compensation for furnishing such representation must be accredited by the Department of Veterans Affairs Office of General Counsel (OGC).
These unaccredited representatives are charging exorbitant fees in exchange for services rendered, including preparation and filing of claims; assistance in obtaining further evidence relating to claims; assistance in obtaining an increased rating based on increased disability; preparation and presentation of matters on appeal from a decision of the Secretary; assistance at hearings before the Board of Veterans’ Appeals, the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, or another court on any matter material to a decision on a claim under laws administered by VA; and assistance at hearings before Federal agencies other than VA in connection with any matter material to a decision on a claim under laws administered by VA.
In addition, these unaccredited representatives have been using deceptive advertising practices that include: false statements about the likelihood of receiving benefits; false statements about their accreditation status with OGC; and abusive telemarketing practices designed to intimidate potential clients into paying thousands upon thousands of dollars without fully understanding what they are paying for.
The problem that is most concerning when it comes to using non-accredited representatives is that these representatives are not under the VA’s authority, which means that all the services that they provide are not supervised by the VA. It is worth mentioning that one-third of the complaints concerning representatives are against the unaccredited ones. Now, you might think that two-thirds of the complaints are against accredited representatives, so they are still not that good. Well, it is true that some of the unaccredited representatives are actually good at what they are doing and can sometimes be better than accredited representatives but the problem is that when the VA receives a complaint about an accredited representative they can investigate the case and potentially suspend their license. But, when it comes to unaccredited representatives the process would be very complicated and something that you don’t want to go through, so it is better to avoid it from the beginning.
Another major problem that comes from using unaccredited representatives is that they usually benefit from loopholes that allow them to take advantage of veterans. We can see such a problem when it comes to the fees that they charge. The VA regulations state that fees taken from the retroactive benefits are not supposed to exceed a certain percentage, the VA considers a 20 percent fee or less as a reasonable fee, while fees exceeding 33.3 percent are considered unreasonable. Now, where is the problem exactly? The problem is that these unaccredited representatives don’t follow these rules because they usually say that the services that they are not offering claim help but rather a pre-filing consultation (education-based coaching) which allows them to have clients sign contracts that will have them unregulated sums from future-benefits.
In conclusion, I am in no way trying to out unaccredited representatives as evil entities that are trying to take advantage of veterans because, in the end, there are good and bad people on both sides. You might encounter accredited representatives that might end up not being of use to your case, and then find an unaccredited representative that provides useful services to you. The reason I wrote this blog is to spread awareness and try to help you make up your mind and choose the most suitable option to you.