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Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Vietnam Veterans And Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown: At Odds?

COLUMBUS (TDB) -- A Washington Times story is flying furiously around the Internet today because it says that U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown seems to be lining up against the Vietnam Veterans of American. The Vietnam Vets want to preserve a new law that allows disabled veterans to hire and pay lawyers to press their claims for benefits. Brown, D-Ohio, apparently sounded like he is less than enthusiastic about their pet cause, and his stance triggered a lot of e-mailing and angst.

Congress changed the law to allow paid lawyers because the Department of Veterans Affairs can be a difficult agency to deal with, and bureaucracy can swamp the unskilled but deserving. The Washington Times story follows, and Brown is in the last paragraph -- the paragraph that created the buzz. It arrived in the mailbox with this note: Read the last part concerning your Senator.


"By Sean Lengell

"Veterans groups fear unscrupulous lawyers will prey on ex-military personnel seeking medical claims from the Department of Veterans Affairs when a Civil War-era law is replaced later this year.

"The Disabled American Veterans (DAV) and other groups are challenging the new law that allows lawyers to collect fees for representing injured veterans earlier in their appeal, undermining the long-standing practice of pro bono representation.

"We're leery about the fact that now we'll see attorneys on TV advertising services to veterans that they can get elsewhere at no charge," DAV Executive Director David Gorman said. "We just think that a lot of [veterans] will unnecessarily go to these attorneys."

"The new statute, which passed in December and is scheduled to take affect in June, permits veterans challenging a claim dispute with the VA to hire a lawyer as soon as they appeal. Previously, veterans could hire lawyers or other legal agents only after the VA's Board of Veterans' Appeal reached a decision on their case, thus exhausting the administrative appeals process. The new law doesn't affect a veteran's right to legal counsel at any time of the claim process on a pro bono basis, which veterans groups like the DAV help arrange for ex-service personnel. "We think [the pro bono system] is the bedrock of the VA compensation system," Mr. Gorman said.

"The original law dates to the 1860s and placed a limit of $10 that lawyers could charge veterans on claims cases. The $10 cap remained until the late 1980s, when lawyers were barred from collecting any fees until the final step in the appeals process.

"But supporters of the new law, sponsored by Sen. Larry E. Craig, Idaho Republican, say the old policy has outlived its usefulness, and that removing barriers limiting veterans' ability to seek legal representation gives them more legal options.

"'Senator Craig feels strongly that veterans are adults and should be able to hire an attorney if they wish," Craig spokesman Jeff Schrade said.

"And not all veterans groups oppose the law. Vietnam Veterans of America says the new statute reverses more than a century of discrimination against veterans.

"'It's outrageous to think that an enemy combatant or an illegal alien has the right to hire an attorney, but a disabled veteran doesn't,' said Rick Weidman, the group's executive director for policy and government affairs. The Disabled American Veterans only opposes the law because the group risks losing relevance if veterans hire a private attorney instead of using the group's own legal services, said Arthur N. Bernklau, executive director of Veterans for Constitutional Law Ltd., a veterans-advocacy group.

"'The veterans of this country do not have a worse enemy than the DAV,' Mr. Bernklau said. DAV National Commander Bradley Barton has pleaded with Congress to repeal the law. 'Veterans and other beneficiaries should be able to file claims for benefits and receive fair decisions from the VA without the necessity to hire and pay a large portion of their benefits to attorneys," Mr. Barton said last week at a joint hearing of Senate and House veterans affairs committees.

"The Veterans of Foreign Wars and AMVETS also oppose the new guidelines, which also will significantly slow down the number of benefits claims with the VA. There already is a backlog of about 400,000 claims, the DAV says.

"Sen. Sherrod Brown, Ohio Democrat, says Veterans shouldn't need a lawyer to get their benefits, and that he is hopeful a deal can be worked out to change the law."


  1. The proposed legislation doesn't seem to be about veteran's benefits as much as about full employment for lawyers.

    Why do veterans need lawyers to explain their benefits and clear up paperwork? Maybe because the same congresscritters who wrote the legislation with so many caveats and provisions that the bureaucrats had to make complicated forms to comply with the law.

    I haven't heard enough about this to determine who is most wrong, but in my eyes at first glance it is our bloated bureaucracy at fault.

  2. I dont think it as much for attorney as it is for anybody should be allowed to retain legal counsel at any time for any reason.

    DAV & VFW can promote their free service more. What if a veteran is unhappy to the service he is getting from the DAV attorneys? Should he not be able to retain his own counsel at any time?

    That veterans get the run around on their care is a crock anyway. You are right they are to many damn hoops to jump through and this needs to be rectified.

    Until this is corrected, any veteran should have the right to retain counsel at anytime in their claim.

    Agreed, I would like to know more about this.


  3. Bill,

    I am an attorney who represents veterans. I agree, vets should not have to hire a lawyer. But they should be allowed to hire one if they want. The current law, to take effect in June, simply allows vets the option of doing so if they want. That is all it is, a choice. Veterans are currently the only group of people who are legally forbidden from hiring lawyers while there is still time to submit evidence. Even enemy combatants can hire a lawyer: why shouldn't vets have that right.

    VA claims are incredibly complex -- more so than Social Security or workers comp or unemployment, areas in which people are allowed to hire lawyers. The claims drag on for years, sometimes decades, in part because the veteran does not understand what he neds to give the VA to win the case. Yes, Congress could make the process easier, with fewer hoops, but it has not. And unless and until it does, vets need help -- from a service officer, from a lawyer, from someone who knows the rules and can eligible vets get the evidence that is needed.

    The law that is set to take effect in June has strict requirements on how much a lawyer can charge, and has strict certification requirements that only VA-certified lawyers can charge. These provisions will protect vets, but allow them a choice.

  4. I am a DAV of the VN era. I fully support representation by a private attorney as the ONLY viable solution to fair timely rating aquisition and settlement and feel that the door to backpay appeals should never be closed.Veterans injured in service have earned the right to be backpay compensated regardless of having been previously denied as adeqaute evidence with regard to the impact on their life is truly manifested later on. Any legislater who has supported denying a veteran of this ability as the law currently stands should be immediately removed from office and then processed for immediate deployment, together with all their family members on the front line in Iraq.If a veteran is able to show ongoing affliction year after year since service connected injury insued then they should be allowed to pursue at any time increases in and back pay compensation for injries of service.Initial ratings have very little to do with the actual impact on a DAV's life, as this can only be truly manifested as time progresses.
    John Andrew Glitten