A VA-accredited Claims Agent is a person who can legally represent veterans to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and assist veterans with filing claims for VA benefits. The formal certification process ensures agents who assist veterans meet the VA’s standards of professionalism.
Veterans can file claims to the VA on their own, but there are many advantages to working with an accredited agent — especially when it comes to disability claims based on rare and complex illnesses such as mesothelioma. VA-accredited agents have a thorough understanding of the VA’s documentation requirements, thanks to their training and often also their life experiences.
An accredited agent can help you understand which VA benefits you and your family may be eligible for and the application requirements for each. They can also directly assist you in completing and submitting your claim to the VA.
Claims Agents Help with Complicated Paperwork
For many veterans with service-related disabilities, trying to get their VA benefits approved feels like fighting a battle with a distant bureaucracy over confusing paperwork.
It is public knowledge the military used asbestos products extensively from the 1930s to the 1970s, causing American veterans to now bear a disproportionate burden of asbestos-related diseases. Yet, the process of getting an asbestos-related disability claim approved by the VA is anything but simple.
“The VA requires very specific evidence for the medical diagnosis of any asbestos-related disease as well as specific information about how you were exposed throughout your lifetime,” Aaron Munz of The Mesothelioma Center explained.
The VA uses a rigorous set of criteria to determine eligibility. The success of an asbestos-related disability claim depends on writing an exposure summary that details the following information:
- Your military service
- The job specialty you performed
- Where you were stationed or what ship you served on
- What type of equipment and products you worked with
- Where and how you may have been exposed to asbestos
- The diagnosis of the specific asbestos-related illness you are seeking benefits for
“In our experience, the exposure summary is the key factor in substantiating an asbestos-related VA claim,” Munz said.
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VA Accreditation Ensures Professionalism
Getting assistance with writing an asbestos exposure summary can be challenging, according to The Mesothelioma Center’s Danielle DiPietro.
“Asbestos-related diseases are very rare — a lot of veterans service organizations have never helped a patient with an asbestos disease. It’s important to have a full understanding of what documents need to be submitted to get the claim approved the first time around.”
Thanks to the VA accreditation process, veterans can look beyond local governments and veterans service organizations to seek the assistance of specialized patient advocates. No matter what organization a claims agent is affiliated with, the requirements for VA accreditation are the same:
- Passing an exam to demonstrate a comprehensive understanding of VA benefits
- Passing a background check and providing personal references supporting good moral character
- Completing three hours of continuing education every year to keep VA benefits knowledge up to date
Claims Agents Draw from Valuable Life Experiences
Very often the people who best understand how to deal with the VA benefits system are the veterans and family members who have already been through it themselves.
Aaron Munz served in the Army for nine years as an officer, and he had to navigate the VA disability system for his own service-connected injury. His experience in the Army also gave him an intimate knowledge of the many unique risks service members face.
“I understand how the military’s mission-first focus sometimes results in a lack of precautions taken for personal safety. Veterans have been asked or ordered to work under conditions that exposed them to toxic substances without knowing the dangers those may pose to their health years down the road.”
Munz listed carcinogenic chemicals, nuclear radiation, depleted uranium, toxic burn pits, Agent Orange and asbestos materials as examples of the toxic exposure risks that have been involved in military service.
Danielle DiPietro did not serve in the Army, but both her grandfathers did, and they came to rely on her to help them understand what VA resources are available to them. In addition, her family’s history with cancer inspired her personal commitment to patient advocacy.
“Being accredited by the VA allows me to help veterans suffering from asbestos-related diseases get the compensation they deserve.”