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What is the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA) and Why Does It Need Reform for Veterans?

When you’re a veteran with a disability, income is a problem and you may worry about how to pay for an attorney. However, sometimes when lawyers help veterans receive military benefits, the government has to pay their fees. Having the government pay attorney fees lessens your financial burden.

When you win a lawsuit against the government, you can recover attorney fees and expenses unless:

  • The court finds that the government agency’s position was substantially justified
  • Special circumstances make awarding attorney fees unjust

Your fees and expenses are the reasonable costs for:

  • Attorneys
  • Expert witnesses
  • Study or analysis of engineering reports
  • Tests or projects necessary for your lawsuit

Unfortunately, the way the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA) process works often makes it difficult for veterans to recover attorney fees, which is why reform is necessary. Reforming the EAJA process would cut out waste for the VA, help veterans receive benefits more quickly and help maximize the benefits veterans can receive. A system with greater accountability, more like the system the Social Security Administration (SSA) uses would improve the process for veterans.

The problem with the EAJA is that the Veteran’s Court allows attorneys to be paid before they obtain your benefits — unlike the SSA and other courts. Also, the Veteran’s Court often decides there is a “lack of substantial justification” to pay expenses and returns cases for further information (called a remand). At this stage, you don’t receive any benefit, even though your attorneys get paid for their work. Consequently, attorneys can end up working for multiple remands rather than for a final decision. A final decision is what would benefit you! Even worse, multiple remands don’t necessarily lead to a benefit. So, you can end up wasting time without obtaining a favorable final decision.

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