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For military veterans, legal help is on the way. Last month, a new law enabling attorneys to represent veterans applying for disability benefits went into effect. The Veterans Benefits, Health Care, and Information Technology Act of 2006, which Congress passed in December, allows veterans to hire lawyers earlier in the disability claims process. Previously, a veteran could hire a lawyer to intervene only after a claim had been denied twice, once by the regional office of the Department of Veterans Affairs and once by the Board of Veterans’ Appeals. Though the system was designed to be nonadversarial, veterans often spend years in the appeals process, presenting complicated medical evidence and fixing mistakes from previous applications. “It’s often difficult to assess what evidence is needed,” says Daniel Krasnegor, a partner at Wright, Robinson, Osthimer & Tatum who represents disabled veterans. “Having any sort of competent representation always helps a veteran understand clearly what to do to prevail in a case.” The law has opened up a new area of practice for attorneys, but it also has certain restrictions, including an accreditation process and rules regarding fees. The Virginia Bar is offering a continuing legal education program to introduce attorneys to the practice, but the D.C. Bar does not have a program planned at this time.
Attila Berry can be contacted at [email protected].

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