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Before the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee Regarding S2694, S2562, S2121, S2659, S2416 and S3363

June 8, 2006

American veterans essentially cannot obtain legal representation because of the current fee limitation in effect until after their case has gone past the Board of Veterans’ Appeals. Legal counsel at the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims (CAVC) is allowed to present no new evidence. Allowing veterans legal counsel at the initiation of their claim would give that claim a legal continuity. Legal counsel is the right of all Americans, except veterans. This is an injustice that must be redressed. VVA thanks you for bringing this issue to the fore, and starting the process that we hope will at long last be successful.

As you are aware, legislation of this nature is not unheard of, and in fact there have been several attempts over the past 20 years to pass similar bills. None of these previous attempts have been even remotely successful because of the vehement opposition of the Department of Veterans Affairs under several Presidents, and the opposition of some of our distinguished colleagues in other major veterans service organizations (VSOs). The VA bureaucracy itself has opposed opening the process to any form of meaningful reform. Today, however, Congress appears to be ready to move to fix the broken, backlogged VA claims adjudication process. Significantly, unlike in previous efforts, the bi-partisan leadership of both the Senate and House Veterans’ Affairs Committees appear to be the primary impetus behind the current legislation. For this reason, there is a very strong possibility that the current prohibition against veterans hiring attorneys before the VA will be repealed during the 109th Congress.

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