As Alex has noted, only a few staffers in any particular VSO office are accredited representatives. This has been a surprising revelation. The information is included in two recent CRS reports.
Veterans Accredited Representatives: Frequently Asked Questions June 25, 2020 R46428 (Link) or
Veterans Service Organizations (VSOs): Frequently Asked Questions, Updated June 26, 2020 R46412 (Link) or
R46412 PDF-8 pages
Note: CRS reports are prepared at the behest of congressional members and can be accessed via this search engine: https://crsreports.congress.gov/
or, “For an index of CRS products, click the SEARCH button without entering a search term.” These summary reports contain “breadcrumbs” to other places to look for in- depth reports.
Oddities include statements like this footnote: “8 CRS has a nondistributable, archived report on congressionally chartered organizations, RL30340…” however this report is archived by North Texas University library and probably others (LINK). Or the actual pdf: years old RL30340_2011Jun17 ,
A few quotes to ponder:
“…Not all recognized VSOs provide accredited representatives to represent claimants. The recognized VSOs that do not represent claimants must illustrate how they will inform veterans of the limited services they can provide, as well as how they will advise veterans on how to find accredited representation….Accredited representatives who work for VSOs may not charge their clients fees. ” p. 3
“…VSOs may receive funding from state, county, or private funding sources. They may also receive federal grants to support specific activities…” p. 4
“…there is no uniform requirement for all VSOs or all congressionally chartered VSOs to submit reports.” (To the federal government) p. 4
“All accredited representatives … are accredited through VA’s Office of General Counsel (OGC), have completed specific, VA-approved training, have access to claimants’ records, are authorized to upload relevant documentation into VA databases….”
In contrast, congressional staff are not authorized to access VA claims files or upload documents into VA databases on behalf of claimants. 4 In addition, congressional staff are not subject to OGC oversight. … but they may not represent claimants before VA.
Congress wants to change this.
“Legislation in the 116th Congress has been introduced to allow nonaccredited representatives , such as congressional staff, access to veterans’ records (H.R. 628).
In addition, in response to a proposed rule to rescind the 48 hours currently
given to accredited representatives to review claims determinations (85 Federal Register 9435, February 19, 2020), legislation has been introduced to require this access (S. 3761).”
How many veterans think that going to their senator’s staffers is going to solve their claim problems, only to have the VA write a letter to the senator stating they, the VA, is correct in their determination regarding said veteran? Even experienced staffers with good intentions spin their wheels as they encounter VA’s many schemes and mazes.
However, it would be better if they turned over tough cases to those trained to give the VA the evidence it needs and have access to the system. And politics and privacy–should not become entangled in benefit claims.
What about the free rent some VSOs receive? It is mentioned but not explained.
Alex has explained that it is now much harder for a veteran to navigate the system alone. Trying to figure out the correct forms to use alone is difficult. And an IMO is now essential putting ill veterans, short of funds, in a terrible position. The questionnaires vets could give a private doctor, have been removed. However, there existed a deceptive double standard with regard to the questionnaires anyway. Contracted C & P examiners were given longer, more comprehensive questionnaires for the same conditions. (Alex Graham Hadit.com podcast, 1/20). Those in-house questionnaires are the forms veterans must be given if they cannot afford thousands of dollars on professional, detailed, IMOs.
So we still must clamor for reforms and transparency, not only for the oldies, but for younger veterans who should be spared further injustice as well.
Laura (Guest author)