Understanding the Requirements for Veterans Affairs Accreditation

Are you looking for a CLE Course to maintain your VA Accreditation?

CLE Course to Maintain Your Accreditation with VAUnder Title 38 CFR Section 14.629, the Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA) requires periodic renewal of your accreditation authority for the preparation, presentation, and prosecution of claims for veterans through 3 hours of continuing legal education every 2 years.

Get this CLE Video Course and Renew Your Accreditation with VA!

For agents and attorneys already accredited with VA, we offer two approved 3 hour video courses to meet your initial first year CLE requirements or any additional three hours on veterans benefits law and procedures required every two years. Learn More | Purchase a Course

If you are searching for study materials to help you prepare for the Accreditation Exam, Click Here.

What is Accreditation for Veterans Claims?

Federal law dictates that anyone assisting a veteran in the preparation, presentation and prosecution of an initial claim for veterans benefits requires accreditation authority from the Department of Veterans Affairs. (see 38 USC§ 5901). The only exception to this law is that any one person can help any veteran – one-time only – with a claim. To help any veteran a second time requires accreditation. See (38 CFR§ 14.630 & 38 USC§ 5903).

VA recognizes 3 types of individuals for purposes of accreditation.

Accredited attorneys,
Accredited agents, and
Accredited representatives of service organizations (Veterans Service Officers).

In order to be accredited to help veterans with new claims, an individual desiring this authority from VA must submit a formal application, must meet certain character requirements and work history requirements and, except for attorneys, must pass a comprehensive test relating to veterans claims and benefits. There are also requirements for ongoing continuing education.

There are well over 18,000 accredited attorneys and there are approximately 10,000 accredited representatives of service organizations who are typically called Veterans Service Officers. The most active of these are County Veterans Service Officers who are under the authority of their state Department of Veterans Affairs but are typically paid as county employees.

Only a few hundred of the over 18,000 accredited attorneys actually have received training and are thoroughly knowledgeable with veterans benefits. The rest of the accredited attorneys generally have not received training and often become accredited for other reasons.

There are approximately 500 accredited agents and these individuals must study for and pass an exam administered by the VA Office of General Counsel. Most accredited agents have the knowledge and background to handle veterans disability claims.

Without accreditation no one may help a veteran with a claim more than one time.

What Does It Mean to Assist a Veteran with a Claim?

Assisting with a claim means preparing, presenting and prosecuting an application for veterans benefits. Assistance with a claim requires accreditation. Accreditation is required for assistance with any individual who is determined under VA regulations to be a “claimant.” A claimant is any individual who has indicated an intent to file a specific claim or claims for benefits . Anyone can talk about veterans benefits in general with any veteran and need not be accredited. The point at which discussion narrows down to specific advice concerning the veteran's service record, medical conditions, financial situation including income and assets and other issues directly relating to a claim specific to a veteran or dependent requires accreditation. Stated again: An individual cannot advise a veteran or other eligible beneficiary about that person's specific claim for VA benefits unless that individual is accredited. It does not matter whether generating paperwork with filing the claim is provided or not. The need for accreditation occurs at a much earlier stage than handling paperwork. For a better understanding of how the Department of Veterans Affairs General Counsel interprets the need for accreditation please read the section at the bottom of this page entitled "What Questions Are Frequently Asked about Accreditation?"

Can a Non-Accredited Individual Assist under the Authority of an Accredited Individual?

Many individuals who are not accredited and who are promoting and helping veterans obtain their benefits are claiming to work a under someone who is accredited. Most of these individuals are doing it wrong and not complying with the law.

Many of these non-accredited individuals are preparing and submitting claims under the name of an accredited attorney or an accredited agent. This is not allowed under the rules. Only accredited individuals may assist with applications Even if non-accredited individuals are sending the final claim to an accredited individual for submission, they may still not be legal. This is because the non-authorized person may become involved in the claim by providing specific claims advice even after an expression of intent to file and in many cases they help submit documents and other pertinent information. As mentioned above, these activities require accreditation. The only way that a non-accredited individual can operate legally to assist someone who is accredited is to immediately refer a veteran or dependent to an accredited individual when first learning about the expression of an intent to file the claim. No additional help or advice may be given.

Many accredited attorneys are also operating illegally by letting their staff or even non-employee associates in the community handle applications on behalf of the attorney. Only an accredited attorney may represent a claimant. Anyone else, inside or outside of the office, cannot assist with the claim except under certain specific and limiting conditions. Specifically, in order to work under an attorney, an assistant must either be a certified paralegal employee in the attorney's office or a law student or an intern in the office. No other arrangement is allowed. However, the non-accredited individuals in a law office are not allowed to represent the claimant. That must be done by the attorney. In addition, the claimant must sign a consent form allowing for this special provision of handling an application and this consent form must be filed with the Office of General Counsel.

We are also seeing examples of non-accredited individuals acting independently of anyone who is accredited or employees for assisted living or home care companies who are told by an attorney they can operate as if they were assisting the attorney in the preparation and presentation of a claim. They think they are operating legally as assistants to the attorney under the rules discussed above. And of course, the attorneys facilitating these arrangements also think they are operating legally. Under the specific rules mentioned above, they are not. Go to Title 38 CFR § 14.629(c), for the specific regulation concerning claims assistance from the staff of accredited attorneys.

What Questions Are Frequently Asked about Accreditation?

VA Office of General Counsel Website – www4.va.gov/ogc/accred_faqs.asp

Question:  In a law office with attorneys and paralegals working under the supervision of a single Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) accredited attorney, who needs to apply for VA accreditation using a VA Form 21a?

Response:  Accreditation means the authority granted by VA to representatives, agents, and attorneys to assist claimants in the preparation, presentation, and prosecution of claims for VA benefits. 38 C.F.R. § 14.627(a). Without accreditation, an individual may not independently assist claimants in the preparation, presentation, and prosecution of claims for VA benefits.

VA regulations allow interns, paralegals, and law students to assist in preparation, presentation, and prosecution of claims for VA benefits of claimants for benefits, but only under the direct supervision of the attorney of record, and with the specific written consent of the claimant. 38 C.F.R. § 14.629(c)(3). VA does not accredit these individuals. With the written consent of the claimant, attorneys affiliated or associated with the attorney of record may assist in the representation of the claimant, and may do so without the requirement for direct supervision by the attorney of record. 38 C.F.R. § 14.629(c)(2).

Thus, in a law firm where several attorneys and paralegals work on VA claims for a single accredited attorney properly appointed on a VA Form 21-22a as the attorney of record, each attorney must be accredited if their work involves assisting claimants in the preparation, presentation, and prosecution of claims for veterans benefits. Paralegals may assist the attorney of record subject to the written consent of the claimant but may not independently provide representation to claimants.

Question: If an attorney's practice consists solely of advising clients that they might be eligible for benefits and referring them to a recognized service organization or accredited agent or attorney, does the attorney need to be accredited?

Response: No. As a general rule, an attorney's practice of advising veterans about VA benefits not involving a specific claim does not require accreditation. Aside from regulating admission to practice before the Department, VA's accreditation authority is generally limited to regulating the conduct of individuals in assisting claimants with the preparation, presentation, and prosecution of claims for benefits and reviewing the fees and expenses charged for representation in proceedings before the Department. Reviewing a veteran's records, researching available VA benefits, and advising a veteran as to potential benefits before he or she decides to file for a benefit is not part of the preparation, presentation, or prosecution of a claim, and as such, is outside VA's accreditation authority. Accordingly, accreditation is not required for such consultation by attorneys.

Question: If an attorney works with pension benefit clients and advises clients as to eligibility requirements, but does not file the application for them, do they need to be accredited?

Response: Yes. In answering this question, we assume that (1) a "pension benefit client" means a veteran not currently receiving VA pension but one who has expressed intent to file for such benefit, and (2) that the advice provided includes those acts in making the claim ready for filing, but not the actual filing of the claim. Here, the advice constitutes preparation of a claim and therefore requires accreditation. This is because the advice is given in regards to a specific application for benefits rather than general advice not related to a specific claim. The difference is significant in that the purpose of VA's accreditation program is to ensure that claimants for VA benefits receive qualified assistance in preparing and presenting their claims.

Question: If an attorney works with pension benefit clients and advises clients as to eligibility requirements, but does not file the application for them, do they need to be accredited?

Response: Yes. In answering this question, we assume that (1) a "pension benefit client" means a veteran not currently receiving VA pension but one who has expressed intent to file for such benefit, and (2) that the advice provided includes those acts in making the claim ready for filing, but not the actual filing of the claim. Here, the advice constitutes preparation of a claim and therefore requires accreditation. This is because the advice is given in regards to a specific application for benefits rather than general advice not related to a specific claim. The difference is significant in that the purpose of VA's accreditation program is to ensure that claimants for VA benefits receive qualified assistance in preparing and presenting their claims.

Question: Is VA accreditation required to assist a veteran in preparing his or her claim?

Response: Yes. Accreditation means the authority granted by VA to assist claimants in the preparation, presentation, and prosecution of claims for benefits. 38 C.F.R. § 14.627(a). Unaccredited individuals may provide other services to veterans so long as they do not assist in the preparation, presentation, and prosecution of claims for benefits.

Question: I am providing pro bono representation to a veteran. Does this require VA accreditation?

Response: Yes. Our intent is that attorneys will apply for accreditation for any new representation as indicated by the filing of a VA Form 21-22a after June 22, 2008. The claim and a VA Form 21-22a may be filed while the accreditation application is pending. VA Regional Offices (RO) have been instructed to accept such filings and communicate to the attorney the need for accreditation. Although representation without accreditation is not permissible, the RO will hold the VA Form 21-22a (permitting the claimant to have his or her choice of representation) until the accreditation application has been processed.

Attorneys who initiated representation on a claim prior to the June 23, 2008 effective date of the new rules, need not seek accreditation for representation provided on that claim. Initiation of a representation before the effective date of the new rules would be indicated by appointment on a VA Form 21-22a or an attorney's letterhead.