The number of claims agents is growing, which, in turn, means more veterans are being offered assistance with their Department of Veterans Affairs benefits – at a financial cost to the veteran.
The law firm Bergmann & Moore – which in October of 2022 entered into a entered into a memorandum of understanding with the Legion to provide veterans benefits consultation for accredited Legion department service officers (DSOs) to help potential plaintiffs understand the Camp Lejeune Justice Act – is working to make it easier for veterans to get their claims started on their own. And the goal is to free up American Legion service officers to assist more veterans, including those who start the claims process themselves.
During a subject matter expert training session for service officers during The American Legion National Convention in Charlotte, attendees heard from Glen Bergmann, Bergmann & Moore’s managing partner. Moore talked about how claims agents are able to reach out to more veterans than the Legion’s accredited service officers because they have more resources and manpower.
“What they’re doing is illegal, and VA even says it’s illegal,” Bergmann said. “We recognize there’s a problem. The claims agents are eating your lunch. You service officers are doing a great job, but there’s only so many of you, and there’s only so many hours in a day.”
To assist with some of the workload, Bergmann said his law firm has contracted with a national software company to create what he called “a claims platform for veterans directly. Think of TurboTax and how you use TurboTax to file your taxes. This is going to be something that’s going to be provided to members of The American Legion – to all veterans – for free.
“It’s going to be a system where you’re prompted … to answer questions. We’re working on (Form) 526EZ right now. It’s going to be user-friendly. We’re going to make it easy for veterans … and it’s going to be provided to veterans for you all to oversee so that it’s quick. The hope is to be able to directly uplink the document that you’re filling out through the prompts directly to VA.”
Bergmann said if a veteran is unable to complete the document, he or she can at least submit an intent to file “and put a stake down. We’re trying to empower claimants. We’re about leveling the playing field so the claims companies aren’t, essentially, hollowing out The American Legion … and make it easy for veterans to make a claim, so that you all, who are maybe helping 80-100 (veterans) at a time, can maybe help 500, 1,000.”
Paul Sullivan, who serves as Bergmann & Moore’s director of Veterans Outreach, used the session to announce that the law firm will begin in-person service officer training in the fall of 2024 with a new department service officer symposium. Training has been virtual since the pandemic, but the new symposium will take place Oct. 20-25 at the National Conference Center in Leesburg, Va.
“Start from there in October 2024 and going forward, all of the training will be in-person, with the exception of our new service officer training (which) will continue to be virtual,” Sullivan said. “That new service officer school is for that soon-to-be or brand-new service officer so they can hit the ground running.”
The DSO symposium will include interactive discussions with U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims’ chief judge and other VIPS and hopes to include a U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims appellate panel oral argument.
Departments will nominate attendees; National Headquarters will sponsor one DSO from each American Legion department. Additional DSOs can attend if sponsored by their department.
“It’s exciting because there are going to be things that have never been done, at least for The American Legion,” Bergmann said. “This is supposed to be interactive. It’s supposed to promote as much learning, as much understanding of how to do things correctly. How to win claims as quickly as possible. This is going to be the highest tier of service officer training.”
During the session the question came up of what to do when encountering a veteran who said he or she is having trouble connecting with a local service officer. “We don’t live in a perfect world,” said Alan Cohen, vice chairman of the Legion’s Veterans Affairs & Rehabilitation Commission. “I can sit here and spout suggestions and all types of things. There’s no instant answer for anything.
“It can start at the post service officer level if a veteran is having a difficult time. He or she can start that process, the document-gathering process. And maybe that will cut down on the wait time. And it behooves us to get the word out. If you can’t get ahold of (your service officer), here’s a number at national. And we will make sure that that veteran is handled.”