Since The American Legion and Bergmann & Moore entered in a memorandum of understanding (MOU) in 2017 by resolution, the law firm has trained and graduated 2,153 American Legion department service officers through DSO School who help veterans and their families with VA benefits claims at no cost.
“When I say graduate, that means that there was a test. This isn’t a merely show up and get a certificate. We test your department service officers, and we push them hard,” said Glenn Bergmann to American Legion national convention attendees Aug. 31 in Charlotte, N.C.
Bergmann implored convention attendees to stop the growing number of claims agents assisting veterans with their VA claims for a cost.
“I would like you to take a strong stand to mobilize your membership before Congress so Congress can see the importance and the might and the strength of The American Legion,” Bergmann said. “There are bad actors out there and as you heard from VA Secretary McDonough that veterans should not pay to file claims and that is what’s happening because predatory claims agents have come in, they’ve entered in the arena, and they are hollowing out The American Legion. They are doing the work of your department service officers. That needs to stop.”
What is Bergmann & Moore doing to help this stop? The firm has engaged a national software company to create an innovative, user-friendly claims platform “so that your department service officers, instead of helping 500 veterans at a time they can help 1,000, 2,000 because that’s what the competition is doing and they’re doing it for a fee. We believe that claims processing, filing of claims, should be free. We believe that initial claims should be done by your department service officers, and it should be done for free.”
Bergmann & Moore also provides no-cost representation to Legionnaires, family members and others with The American Legion who wish to pursue an appeal of a VA benefits denial from VA’s Board of Veterans Appeals to the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims. Bergmann & Moore has completed 5,552 case dispositions of American Legion members since its partnership, and Bergmann was proud to report to convention attendees that of those, 5,531 ended in a favorable outcome for a 99.6% success rate.
“That means that only five out of over 1,000 appeals of your members ended in a loss,” Bergmann said, adding that there are currently 1,105 pending cases. “This isn’t a representation of us, this is a representation of the success of your department service officers. Because it’s your service officers who start the claims. They present the arguments. They obtain the evidence. By the time the cases come to federal court where we take them and represent you, the record is closed. We cannot add evidence. We can add argument and that’s what we do.”
The “99.6% success rate in federal court is a result of your leadership in having us and educating your department service officers on how best to serve The American Legion members and how to quickly obtain benefits for your members,” he added.
Besides the Department Service Officer School that Bergmann & Moore and The American Legion conducts twice a year, the new National Service Officer School that Bergmann & Moore launched in July 2022 has graduated 500 Legion service officers. NSO School is intended for Legionnaires who have recently become accredited as legal representatives by VA’s Office of General Counsel or are in the process of becoming accredited.
Seeing predatory law firms approaching Legion members in relation to the Camp Lejeune Justice Act, The American Legion and Bergmann & Moore again entered into a memorandum of understanding in October 2022 to help Legionnaires understand the Camp Lejeune Justice Act (CLJA), which allows certain veterans to collect damages from the federal government due to their exposure to contaminated water on the Marine Corps base. As part of the MOU, Bergmann & Moore has identified law firms to send Legion members to and negotiated a reduced fee structure that caps cost and fees. Up-to-date and accurate information about the CLJA is featured monthly in The American Legion Magazine by Bergmann & Moore.
Besides protecting against predatory and/or unscrupulous actors, Bergmann & Moore is ensuring that veterans and family members understand there are two distinct remedies provided under the law – a VA disability/care remedy and a one-time CLJA benefit. Bergmann stressed the important of speaking with an American Legion accredited service officer to file a claim.
Moving forward, Bergmann & Moore and The American Legion will host a Legion Leadership Symposium in October 2024 and are looking into providing suicide prevention training. The in-person Legion Leadership Symposium will involve members of Congress, VA leadership and oral argument before the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims.
“I am proud, again, of the investment your American Legion leadership makes in your department service officers related to training,” Bergmann said. And “I went to the symposium of Be the One, and I was impressed with what you are doing to destigmatize suicide … you are charged, just as the generation before you, with supporting them (younger veterans), with leading them.”