U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims
Until the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims (CAVC) was created in 1988, there was no judicial review of veterans benefits decisions; the BVA had the last word. The court was created by Congress in the Veterans’ Judicial Review Act of 1988.
Once a claim reaches the CAVC, which is a federal court, the process is no longer non-adversarial. In cases appealed to the CAVC, the claimant is opposed by lawyers from the VA’s Office of General Counsel, so it is an especially good idea for veterans to obtain attorney representation when they appeal to the court.
A few national veterans service organizations provide free representation to some claimants at the CAVC, by the service organization’s attorneys or by non-attorney practitioners. No service organization guarantees that it will take a case to the court.
If a veteran is having trouble locating a representative, he or she can file a notice of appeal and the court will send, on request, a list of attorneys who have been admitted to practice at the court. This list is also available on the CAVC’s website at https://www.uscourts.cavc.gov/public_list.php. It is up to the veteran to contact one (or several) of the attorneys listed. Some attorneys charge fees and others may be willing to take the case pro bono (free) or work out a contingency agreement (the veteran pays the attorney nothing if he or she loses, but agrees to share a certain percentage of any past VA benefit award with the attorney).
The court, concerned by the number of unrepresented claimants who appear before it, helped create a program called the Veterans Consortium Pro Bono Program that matches unrepresented veterans with pro bono attorneys. The Consortium’s staff screens cases for merit and trains volunteer attorneys in veterans law and practice before the CAVC.