Why should you become a VA accredited agent?
By Mary Markovich
Affordable VA Accreditation Training
The United States has the most comprehensive system of assistance for veterans of any nation in the world. The mission of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is to fulfill President Lincoln’s promise: “To care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan” by serving and honoring the men and women who are America’s veterans."
Summary history of the VA
The Continental Congress of 1776 encouraged enlistments during the Revolutionary War by providing pensions for soldiers who were disabled. In 1789, after the ratification of the U.S. Constitution, the first congress assumed the burden of paying veterans benefits. In that same year the first federal pension legislation was passed and continued.
As the Great Depression deepened, approximately 12,000 to 15,000 veterans and their families began to converge on Washington, D.C. to demand immediate payment of their pension. President Hoover signed the executive order establishing the VA in 1930.
The need for accredited agents is great
There are approximately 24 million veterans alive today, and three quarters of them served during a time when the United States was at war or during an official conflict period.
One fourth of the U.S. population — approximately 63 million citizens — are potentially eligible for VA benefits and services because they are:
- a veteran
- a dependent of a veteran
- parents of a veteran
- the surviving spouse of a veteran
Why should an agent become a VA accredited agent?
To fulfill its stated mission to care for and honor veterans, the VA has drafted several regulations governing who may assist veterans or their family members with claims. 38 U.S.C. § 5901 states that "…no individual may act as an agent or attorney in the preparation, presentation, or prosecution of any claim under law administered by the secretary, unless such individual has been recognized for such purposes by the secretary.” In other words, it is a violation of federal law for an individual to assist a veteran in the preparation, presentation or prosecution of a claim, unless the VA gives permission for the individual to assist. The VA names four classes of people who can assist the claimant.
Who can assist a claimant with an application for benefits?
- VA approved and accredited agent
- VA accredited attorney
- VA recognized service organization (VSO)
- a private individual may assist only one claimant with the application for benefits without being accredited
A claimant is a person who has filed or expressed an intent to file an application for VA benefits.
What does the VA regulation mean when it states that there is a prohibition against “preparation and presentation… of any claim”?
Many people have written to the VA because they have questions about the meaning of the words “preparation” and "presentation” and what the VA is specifically prohibiting. The VA has written several opinion letters to explain its interpretation of the meaning of the words “preparation” and “presentation.”
When a claimant wants to file a claim for benefits, if the agent is not accredited, the VA considers “counseling” or “gathering information” for a claimant unlawful activities, which are prohibited by the Code of Federal Regulations. If there is a complaint, the burden of proof is on the individual to prove that he or she did not “counsel” or "gather information” for the claimant.
How does an agent become accredited?
The agent completes and mails an application form (available at www.va.gov) to the Office of General Counsel in Washington, D.C. When the application is approved, the Office of General Counsel will send the agent a letter and inform the agent to schedule an appointment to take an accreditation test at the local VA Regional Office. The closed book accreditation test consists of 25 questions and is administered and monitored at the VA Regional Office.
The benefits of being an accredited agent
- They served us, now we can serve them
- They earned these promised benefits