Why won’t VA talk to my attorney’s office on the phone without me?
In our veterans disability compensation, we are often asked by veterans why the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) will call them directly instead of calling us. You would think that when a veteran hires an attorney, the VA would have to talk to the attorney’s office, right? That is not the way the VA sees it.
Calls from the VA to our office almost never happen. If information is needed on a claim, VA calls the veteran. If VA wants to schedule a hearing, they may call the veteran, but usually write the veteran a letter without sending a copy to our office. Why?
VA seems to base its practice of contacting veterans directly on privacy laws. Even though we file a proper VA Form 21-22a (Appointment of Representative), VA takes the position that it may not speak to the staff of an attorney about a veteran, and often will not speak to the attorney. That may be because they cannot verify who is on the other end of the phone. To its credit, VA is trying to protect your privacy, although their explanation for how they do that does not seem to make much sense. They basically say that they can only talk to your lawyer, not the lawyer’s staff. Of course, this ignores that they usually will not even do that. On its website, VA gives a technical response which basically cites to privacy laws to justify how it acts:
Claimant information is protected by the Privacy Act, 5 U.S.C. § 552a, and by 38 U.S.C. §§ 5701 and 7332, and implementing VA regulations. Section 5701 provides that all claimant records are confidential and prohibits disclosure with certain exceptions. Section 5701 also provides that any disclosure of claimant information must be in accordance with the Privacy Act.
Under the Privacy Act, VA may not disclose claimant information without the express written consent of a claimant. However, the express written consent provided by a claimant for purposes of authorizing VA’s disclosure to an individual attorney appointed on a VA Form 21-22a does not extend to that attorney’s staff. Extending the claimant’s specific consent authorizing VA’s disclosure to a named attorney to the attorney’s staff constitutes an impermissible form of “implied consent” prohibited by the Privacy Act. In such a situation, the attorney, not the claimant, would be authorizing VA’s disclosure of the claimant’s protected information to his or her staff based solely on employment affiliation, a result not contemplated by the Privacy Act.
Just because VA will not speak to our office does not mean that we cannot help a veteran. On the contrary, nearly everything VA does is by letter or at a live hearing. When we need to speak to VA, we often will get our veteran client on the phone, and conduct a three-way phone call. Once we have established with a particular Rating Office or Decision Review Officer that we are serving as a veteran’s attorney, it becomes easier for them to deal directly with us.
Like most things with the VA, communication can be a challenge. Countless veterans tell me that VA never listens to them. Our job is to make VA listen. If they will not do it on the phone, we do it in writing. If the Regional Office will not listen, we do it by sending written briefs and evidence to the Board of Veterans Appeals. If the BVA did not listen, we will file an appeal with the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims and file written briefs there. When VA puts up roadblocks – even when they are well-intentioned – our job is to find a way to make the VA listen to your case.
Do you need help appealing a VA service connected compensation claim? If you have been denied, call VA Disability Attorney John Tucker to schedule a free consultation at (866) 282-5260 or fill out our online form here: Contact VA Disability Attorney John Tucker.