Valley Veteran Loses Thousands after Filing VA Claim

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WESLACO – A Rio Grande Valley veteran is out thousands of dollars due to the way he filed an appeal for veteran’s benefits.

Vietnam veteran Luis Cantu said he paid a high price to file his claim.

"I went to a convention in McAllen and this other veteran kind of – we were talking and they told me that go see this consultant that he and other people got a 100 percent,” said Cantu. 

Cantu said the consultant helped him fill out the paperwork, but charged him $8,000.

"I found out that he told me that I would have to pay 20 percent of whatever I would receive back from the VA,” he said.

Hidalgo County Veterans Service Officer Felix Rodriguez said veterans don't have to pay.

"I think it's highly unethical,” said Rodriguez. 

Rodriguez said this action hurts both the veterans and taxpayer pockets.

"In a way, they are playing with it. You know we're public servants. I'm a county employee. The counselors at the Texas Veterans Commission are state employees. So they are already paying it for the services we provide with their tax money,” said Rodriguez. 

Cantu wants other veterans not to make the same mistake.

"I just don’t want somebody else to get into that system to go help somebody and help somebody else make money off of you. That's what it comes down too,” he said.

Rodriguez explained to make sure the person or organization is accredited by the VA.

CHANNEL 5 NEWS wanted to know more about the claims process. The Department of Veterans Affairs officials said a person must be recognized by the Veterans Administration to assist, prepare, present and take on claims assistance

The agency sent us the following statement:

"By law, an individual must be accredited by VA as an agent, attorney, or representative of a VA-recognized veterans service organization to assist in the preparation, presentation, and prosecution of a claim for VA benefits.  38 U.S.C. §§ 5901-5902, 5904; 38 C.F.R. § 14.629.  VA regulations provide a one-time only exception to this general rule, which authorizes a person to provide assistance on a particular claim, but such assistance must be without cost to the claimant and is otherwise subject to the laws governing representation.  38 C.F.R. § 14.630.  An individual who is not accredited by VA is otherwise prohibited by law from assisting claimants in the preparation, presentation, and prosecution of claims before VA.

By law, no person or organization may charge claimants a fee for assistance in preparing applications for VA benefits or presenting claims to VA.  VA-accredited agents and attorneys may charge fees for assistance on a claim for VA benefits only after VA has issued a decision on a claim, a Notice of Disagreement has been filed initiating an appeal of that decision, and the agent or attorney has complied with the power-of-attorney requirements in 38 C.F.R. § 14.631 and the fee agreement requirements in 38 C.F.R. § 14.636(g).  38 U.S.C. § 5904(c)(1); 38 C.F.R. § 14.636(c).”

Here’s a list of some the organizations that offer free services:

Hidalgo County Veterans Services Office

Disabled American Veterans

Ebenefits is an online version to make your claims

Fee for Service:

Unlike VSOs, VA accredited claims agents and attorneys may charge a fee for their services. For more information on what to do if you believe you were charged an unreasonable fee by a claims agent or attorney, see the fact sheet on How to Challenge a Fee.

What is an accredited representative?

An accredited representative is an individual who has undergone a formal application and training process and is recognized by VA as being capable of assisting claimants with their affairs before VA. Most accredited representatives work for veteran service organizations (VSOs) many of which are private non-profit groups that advocate on behalf of Veterans, Servicemembers, dependents and survivors. Accredited representatives may also work for state or county government entities.

The accreditation process includes an examination, a background investigation, and continuing education requirements to ensure VSOs are providing the most up-to-date information. Recognized organizations and individuals, whether congressionally chartered VSOs or VA accredited claims agents or attorneys, can legally represent a Veteran, Servicemember, dependent, or survivor before VA. Non-recognized organizations and individuals can provide information, but cannot be a representative.

How to find a Representative online:

You can find a local representative including a recognized VSO, attorney, or claims agent by state/territory, zip code, or by the organization's name online using eBenefits or at your nearest VA regional benefits office. 

To find a VSO office located in or near your local regional benefit office, use our directory of VSOs

Congressman Filemon Vela's office also provides resources for veterans.

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