Do you believe the VA owes you benefits they haven’t yet paid you? Then it may be time to file a legal claim. You may feel unsure about reaching out to a VA-accredited lawyer. This is understandable. You worry their fees would be too expensive for you or your family to pay. However, there is good news here: if you are a veteran, you will not be the one paying your VA attorney fee agreement.
Generally, VA-accredited attorneys charge no upfront fees. They work on contingency, which means your claim must succeed for them to receive any payment. For winning cases only, they may charge 20%-33% of your past-due veterans’ benefits. This means that lawyer fee payments come directly from the VA, not from you, the veteran filing the claim.
Also, you do not have to review the VA attorney fee agreement alone. A expert representative from the VA will approve the fee agreement as “reasonable,” depending on the complexity and unique aspects of your case.
Fees Must Be “Reasonable.” What Does That Mean?
To be considered reasonable, the permitted fees may be based on a fixed fee, hourly rate, a percentage of benefits recovered, or a combination.
Factors that help determine whether fees are reasonable or not include:
- Extent and type of services the attorney performed
- Complexity of your case
- The lawyer’s level of skill and competence that provided you with legal services
- Amount of time your attorney spent on the case
- Results your lawyer achieved, including the amount of any benefits you receive
- Rates other lawyers charge for providing similar services
A benefit is any payment, service, commodity, function, or entitlement administered by the VA to veterans, dependents, and survivors.
What Percentage of Past-Due Benefits Does a VA Attorney Fee Agreement Usually Charge?
The VA automatically considers any fee agreement charging veterans no more than 20% of any past-due benefits “reasonable.” However, that’s true only if your attorney provided representation until you receive the decision awarding you benefits. The VA considers any fees which exceed 33 and 1/3% of any past-due benefits they award you as “too high.” In fact, the agency won’t approve any VA attorney fee agreement that exceeds that percentage.
Individuals who don’t have VA attorney accreditation may not ask you for or collect any legal fees. An Agent and Attorney Fee Coordinator will oversee your fee agreement as well as any payments. The primary duties of the AAFC are to serve as the liaison between accredited attorneys and agents and the Veterans Service Center (VSC), Pension Management Center (PMC), or other VA entities. They must review each case. They also ensure that your attorney appropriately files the VA attorney fee agreement in the claims folder.
You Have a Right to Qualified Legal Representation
To be valid under the law, a direct-pay fee agreement must meet all requirements applicable to fee agreements generally. There are additional specific requirements for direct-pay fee agreements in claims like yours. Finally, the agreement must be written and signed by both the claimant (that’s you) and your VA-accredited attorney.
This is important: If your VA attorney fee agreement states the lawyer will deduct a fee from future benefit payments, this is illegal. Any fee agreement must clearly specify if the VA will pay your attorney directly out of past-due benefits.
Veterans who successfully appeal a denied claim may qualify to have the Equal Access to Justice Act cover their legal fees. This means in those cases, the VA must pay your legal fees outright rather than deducting a percentage from your back-benefit award. So, you get 100% of your benefit award payment and the VA pays all your legal fees!
To learn more about whether this law applies to your case, reach out to a VA attorney in our network today.
Ready to see if you may qualify? Complete your free online veterans benefits evaluation now!
Laura Schaefer is the author of The Teashop Girls, The Secret Ingredient, and Littler Women: A Modern Retelling. She is also an active co-author or ghostwriter of several nonfiction books on personal and business development. Laura currently lives in Windermere, Florida with her husband and daughter and works with clients all over the world. Visit her online at lauraschaeferwriter.com and linkedin.com.