To become a VA-accredited claims agent, you must go through a formal application process and exam through the VA’s Office of General Counsel (OGC). After an extensive background check, VA claims agent hopefuls take an exam that demonstrates proficient knowledge of VA benefits law and procedures in topics that include basic eligibility for VA benefits, rights in appeal and disability compensation.
Process To Become A VA Accredited Claims Agent
The application process to become a claims agent can take up to a year. The application is simple and asks basic questions about you and your education. After submitting my application by email in October 2017 it took two months to be contacted by phone from the VA OGC in which they asked additional questions about my employment history. After the call, they followed up by email with questions on my employment history which I answered and submitted to the VA OGC accreditation support specialist within two days. The OGC representative responded within a few days with the following message:
This message concerns your application for Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) accreditation as a claims agent. We write to inform you that we have sent letters to the individuals listed as character references on your application. We have requested that they respond within thirty days. After we receive their responses, we will continue to process your application.
I immediately notified my character references and they all submitted their letters within the required timeframe. After the thirty days had passed I followed up with the OGC program specialist by email to verify they had received the references and it turns out one of them had somehow not been received. By this time it was early February 2018. I immediately contacted that reference and she resubmitted her reference and the OGC program specialist verified that he received it within a couple of days.
At that point, the VA begin a ‘character and fitness review’ which is an extensive background check. After four months, in June 2018, I followed up with the OGC program specialist who replied that my application was still in the character and fitness review process. In mid-July 2018 I received an email from an OGC Staff attorney asking questions about a business I had recently set up that wasn’t mentioned on my application. I answered his questions within a day and then in late July, I received a call from the decision maker on my application, an OGC associate attorney, who asked about my membership in a Facebook group for veterans claims which I answered to her satisfaction. In late July I received the following message welcoming me to take the exam:
July 30, 2018
Reference No. XXXX-XXX
This concerns your application for Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) accreditation as a claims agent. The VA Office of General Counsel (OGC) has made a preliminary determination on your character and reputation and would like to invite you to take the claims agent exam. Your exam is being sent to the OGC district office with jurisdiction over the state in which you reside.
Please call XXX of OGC’s North Atlantic District South officecat 000-000-0000 to find out where the exam is offered in your district and to schedule an appointment to take the exam at a mutually agreeable date and time. Please schedule your exam as soon as possible. You must sit for the exam within 90 days of this letter. Alternatively, you may request that this deadline be extended for sufficient cause by sending an email to me at XXX, with the basis for your request. If you choose not to schedule your exam and do not request an extension, we will consider your application to be abandoned and will close your file.
The topics which may be covered on the examination include compensation and pension programs, claim procedures, appeals,agents’ fees, and waiver of indebtedness. We recommend studying title 38, United States Code, chapters 1, 11, 13, 15, 51, 53, 59, 71, and 72, and title 38, Code of Federal Regulations, parts 1, 3, 4, 14, 19, and 20. The questions on the claims agent examination are primarily based on information which can be found in these statutes and regulations. The examination is a closed-book examination consisting of 28 multiple-choice and true-false questions. You will have 120 minutes to take the exam and must answer 21 of those questions correctly to achieve a passing score.
After completion, your exam will be returned to our office in Washington, D.C., for grading. If you do not pass the exam, you will be notified that you did not achieve a passing score. If you pass the exam, you will be notified that we are proceeding with our final review of your application. Good Luck!
I immediately contacted the contact person for the exam and scheduled the exam for within the same week and took it at the VA Winston-Salem Regional Office. The exam was 28 questions of moderate difficulty and took me about an hour to complete. I was placed in a conference room by myself to complete the exam. The exam booklet made clear no electronics were to be used of any kind during the exam. I was also given a portion of the law which deals with ethics which could be used for the final few questions of the exam. After completing the exam I returned it to the office staff who told me it would likely be a couple of weeks before I received the results.
To my surprise, I was notified that I passed the exam on the afternoon of the same morning that I took it. I was ecstatic to receive the following email:
It is a pleasure to welcome you as an accredited claims agent for the preparation, presentation, and prosecution of claims for veterans’ benefits before the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Your accreditation is effective from the date of this email. Please read this email carefully to understand your responsibilities as a VA-accredited agent.
Fees for Representation (38 C.F.R. § 14.636)
Please note that, under the laws governing representation, no person may charge claimants a fee for assistance in preparing applications for VA benefits or presenting claims to VA. Only VA-accredited agents and attorneys may charge fees for assisting in a claim for VA benefits, and only after VA has decided the 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). See 38 U.S.C. § 5904(c)(1); 38 C.F.R. § 14.636(c).
VA regulations also provide that an organization with a financial interest in the successful outcome of a claim is not a disinterested third party and, as a result, may not pay an agent for assisting claimants prior to the filing of a notice of disagreement on a claim. See 38 C.F.R. § 14.636(d)(2).
Annual Certification (38 C.F.R. § 14.629(b)(4))
VA regulations impose annual reporting requirements for agents. Each agent must annually provide VA’s Office of the General Counsel (OGC) information about every court, bar, or Federal or State agency to which he or she is admitted to practice or entitled to appear. The agent must provide identification numbers and membership information for each court, bar, or Federal or State agency to which he or she is admitted and certify in writing to OGC that he or she is in good standing with respect to each such admission to practice. Any changes in the agent’s status to practice in a given jurisdiction must be reported to OGC within 30 days of such change. Please mail your annual certification to the Department of Veterans Affairs, Office of the General Counsel (022D), 810 Vermont Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20420. In lieu of mailing, you may submit your annual certification by facsimile to (202) 273-6404 or as a .pdf file sent firstname.lastname@example.org. No particular form is required for these submissions.
Continuing Legal Education (CLE) (38 C.F.R. § 14.629(b)(1)(iii) and (iv))
To maintain your accreditation, you must complete three hours of qualifying CLE within one year of your accreditation. To qualify, a CLE course must be approved for a minimum of three hours of CLE credit by any State bar association and, at a minimum, must cover the following topics: representation before VA, claims procedures, basic eligibility for VA benefits, right to appeal, disability compensation (38 U.S.C. chapter 11), dependency and indemnity compensation (38 U.S.C. chapter 13), and pension (38 U.S.C. chapter 15). You must also complete an additional three hours of qualifying CLE on veterans benefits law and procedure not later than three years from the date of your accreditation and every two years thereafter. You must certify to this office in writing that you have completed these CLE requirements. This certification must include the title of the CLE, the date and time of the CLE, and contact information for the CLE provider, and must be submitted to OGC as part of the annual “good standing” certification requirements. Do not separately submit a certification regarding your completion of CLE but include it with the annual good standing certification. Your CLE certification must include the following information: name of accredited individual, title of the CLE, date and time of the CLE, identification of the CLE provider.
Standards of Conduct (38 C.F.R. § 14.632)
VA regulations also establish uniform standards of conduct for all persons providing representation before VA. The standards of conduct require honesty, competence, and diligence for persons providing representation and prohibit specific conduct including violation of the rules governing representation, delaying claim processing, charging fees contrary to law, and disclosing claimant information without authorization. VA accreditation is for the sole and limited purpose of assisting and representing claimants before VA; VA accreditation may not be used for any other purpose, such as to market financial products or promote a financial services business. Violation of the standards of conduct may result in suspension or cancellation of accreditation under 38 C.F.R. § 14.633. We encourage you to review VA’s regulations governing representation, including fees, at 38 C.F.R. §§ 14.626-14.637.
We look forward to working with you. Please note that we will make your name and contact information publicly available at the Office of the General Counsel website, http://www.va.gov/ogc/accreditation.asp. Please let us know if you would like us to change the contact information that appears on the website. You are responsible for informing us when your contact information changes. If, at any time, you would like us to cancel your accreditation, you must inform us of such request.
If you have questions regarding accreditation, we recommend that you review our “Frequently Asked Questions” page at http://www.va.gov/ogc/accreditation.aspbefore contacting this office at email@example.com.
And that was it! I am officially a VA Claims agent as of August 2018. In total, the process to become a VA Accredited Claims Agent took nine months. I was also listed on the ebenefits and myhealthevet websites as a Claims Agent within a week of my acceptance. If you have any questions on the process or exam drop them in the comments!
The legal requirements for a claims agent are outlined in full here: CFR § 14.629: Requirements for Accreditation.