American Bar Association Veterans’ Claims Assistance Network (ABA VCAN)
Even as the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) works to process claims for a record number of veterans each year, it is experiencing an unprecedented increase in the number of claims from veterans, and many of our nation's veterans--who have been wounded and disabled as a result of their military service--must wait too long to receive the compensation benefits they have earned and deserve.
You, as a lawyer, can now help veterans receive their benefits, by helping veterans submit correct evidence to substantiate their claims for VA disability benefits. The American Bar Association Veterans' Claims Assistance Network (ABA VCAN), in close coordination with the VA, will connect veterans currently in the backlog with the opportunity to work with legal service providers and lawyers who will help the veterans complete their claims packages for expedited review by the VA--at no cost to the veteran.
Join our volunteer roster today, and you will be contacted about veterans in need of assistance with their claims when our case referral system launches in the coming months. You also will be contacted about no-cost CLE courses that will teach you how to prepare veterans' claims, and you will receive instruction on how to become VA accredited to handle these claims. This new initiative is currently in its establishment phase, but we encourage you to sign up now!
Questions & Answers
- Why was the American Bar Association Veterans' Claims Assistance Network (ABA VCAN) created?
- Which veterans are eligible for assistance through ABA VCAN?
- How do I obtain the required accreditation from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) before assisting veterans with VA benefits claims?
- How can I receive the required CLE training for free?
- Who is eligible to sign up to volunteer with ABA VCAN?
- How will I be notified about pro bono opportunities to help prepare veterans' benefits claims?
- By registering with ABA VCAN, am I obligated to help prepare a veteran's claim?
- If I agree to assist with preparing a veteran's claim through ABA VCAN, what are my obligations?
- I helped prepare and submit a veteran's claim, but the veteran is not satisfied with the results determined by the VA. Is there a way for me to further assist this veteran?
- Where can I find further information about veterans' benefits?
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) provides disability compensation to veterans who have injuries or diseases that occurred or were aggravated while on active duty resulting in some degree of disability. However, due to an unprecedented increase in claims being filed for VA benefits, veterans who are eligible and entitled to this compensation can experience delays while the VA gathers evidence required to review and decide their claims. The VA has a number of backlogged benefits claims that have been pending for more than 125 days. While the VA works to reduce and eliminate the claims backlog, ABA VCAN--in partnership with the VA and the Legal Services Corporation (LSC)--will be assisting veterans in a new pilot program by connecting them with legal service providers for the development of their pending claims to get these veterans a decision.
Assisting veterans with completion of their claims is a discrete, time-limited volunteer activity, and the volunteers' service will have far-reaching, positive and systemic impacts. Not only will individual veterans served through this program potentially receive benefits more rapidly thanks to pro bono legal assistance, but also the overall VA claims backlog will be positively affected by each veteran who receives a decision.
ABA VCAN will initially launch as a pilot program, focused on assisting unrepresented veterans with pending claims in VA Regional Offices in Chicago, Illinois, and St. Petersburg, Florida. While many of these claims can be assisted by attorneys located anywhere in the country, ABA VCAN will be particularly focused on volunteer recruitment in these two geographic areas. Upon successful demonstration of the ABA VCAN pilot, it could be expanded to encompass claims located in VA Regional Offices across the country.
Veterans with pending claims selected for this pilot will receive a letter from the VA that explains the various options for representation, including assistance through ABA VCAN. This letter will include a website and phone number, along with a confirmation code, to use to apply for pro bono assistance through ABA VCAN if the veteran wishes to use this service.
Attorneys must be accredited by the VA before they can prepare, present, and prosecute claims for VA benefits. (See 38 C.F.R. §14.629(b)).
If you are an attorney in good standing in your state bar, apply for accreditation from the VA by completing and submitting Form 21a. Submit the form to the VA Office of General Counsel by:
- Mail to the address on Form 21a,
- Fax at (202) 495-5457, or
- Email attached as a PDF file to ABAProBonoAccreditation@va.gov.
Use "ABA Pro Bono Initiative" in the subject line for an application via email, and please write this on the top of a paper application that is mailed or faxed. To help expedite your accreditation approval, please include with your application proof of good standing from your state bar (in the form of a printout from your state bar's website).
After your application for accreditation is approved, you will receive a letter from the VA about your initial accreditation. It may take several weeks for the VA to respond to your accreditation application. After receiving the letter about your initial accreditation, you may assist veterans with VA benefits claims.
Please note that, after receiving your initial accreditation, you must complete continuing legal education (CLE) within the required timeline as a condition of initial accreditation. The ABA will provide this necessary training to you at no cost.
The ABA VCAN will provide the opportunity for free CLE training on veterans' benefits and the development of claims. We anticipate launching this training, via webinar and in-person training, in fall of 2013. By joining our volunteer roster, you will be notified when these trainings become available.
You must complete 3 hours of qualifying CLE on veterans' benefits during the first 12 months following the date of your initial accreditation by the VA. Then, to maintain accreditation, you must complete an additional 3 hours of qualifying CLE within 3 years of initial accreditation and every 2 years thereafter. (See 38 C.F.R. §14.629(b)).
After completing each CLE requirement, send to the VA Office of General Counsel written certification that you have completed qualifying CLE training. Specify the title of the CLE, date and time of the CLE, and the CLE provider. Send to the VA Office of General Counsel (1) by mail to the address on Form 21a, (2) by fax at (202) 495-5457, or (3) by email attached as a PDF file to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Any attorney who is a member in good standing with a state bar may sign up with ABA VCAN.
However, before assisting a veteran with the preparation of a benefits claim, you must be accredited by the VA. If you are not already accredited, please complete and submit Form 21a for initial VA accreditation and complete qualifying CLE training within the required timeline.
After you register with ABA VCAN and have VA accreditation, you will be eligible to receive email notifications from ABA VCAN about veterans needing assistance with assembling claims for submission to the VA for expedited review. Before connecting you with a veteran whom you would like to help, we will provide you with conflict check information. We will not send you confidential case information until you have confirmed that no conflict exists.
Attorneys who sign up with ABA VCAN are not obligated to assist any particular veteran with his or her benefits claim, but it is hoped that you will give strong consideration to volunteer opportunities after you have VA accreditation. Please register to participate, recognizing the sacrifices that veterans have made for us all.
First, please note that before you can assist a veteran with the preparation of his or her benefits claim, you must have VA accreditation.
If you agree to assist a veteran with the preparation of his or her benefits claim, you will be agreeing to assist the veteran in assembling a complete claim submission to the VA for expedited review-free of charge to the veteran.
After conducting a conflicts check, to help you get started, you will be provided with information from the veteran's electronic file within the VA, so you can determine the information and documents that need to be added to the file to complete the claim submission. After the preparation and submission of the claim to the VA, your obligation to the veteran and ABA VCAN is satisfied. ABA VCAN requires that you indicate completion of the VA claim submission. Reporting requirements through ABA VCAN are minimal and will require only a few minutes of your time.
You will be assisting the veteran with this process pro bono. Please note that attorneys are prohibited by law from charging fees for the preparation of a claim. Accredited attorneys may only charge fees for actual representation beyond initial adjudication of the claim, which is defined as acts associated with representing a claimant in proceedings before VA pursuant to appointment on VA Form 21-22a, "Appointment of Individual Claimant's Representative." (See 38 C.F.R. §14.627(m) and 14.636).
After your preparation and submission of the claim to VA, your obligation through ABA VCAN is satisfied. However, if the claim was denied, the veteran may appeal the decision. While ABA VCAN does not require you to assist the veteran with an appeal, you may consider offering representation to the veteran. Please note that ABA VCAN will not monitor or have any involvement with any representation that you provide after your pro bono preparation and submission of the initial claim.