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(a)?Recognition.--(1)?Except as provided in paragraph (4), the Secretary may recognize any individual as an agent or attorney for the preparation, presentation, and prosecution of claims under laws administered by the Secretary.
(2)?The Secretary shall prescribe in regulations (consistent with the Model Rules of Professional Conduct of the American Bar Association) qualifications and standards of conduct for individuals recognized under this section, including a requirement that, as a condition of being so recognized, an individual must--
(A)?show that such individual is of good moral character and in good repute, is qualified to render claimants valuable service, and is otherwise competent to assist claimants in presenting claims;
(B)?have such level of experience or specialized training as the Secretary shall specify; ?and
(C)?certify to the Secretary that the individual has satisfied any qualifications and standards prescribed by the Secretary under this section.
(3)?The Secretary shall prescribe in regulations requirements that each agent or attorney recognized under this section provide annually to the Secretary information about any court, bar, or Federal or State agency to which such agent or attorney is admitted to practice or otherwise authorized to appear, any relevant identification number or numbers, and a certification by such agent or attorney that such agent or attorney is in good standing in every jurisdiction where the agent or attorney is admitted to practice or otherwise authorized to appear.
(4)?The Secretary may not recognize an individual as an agent or attorney under paragraph (1) if such individual has been suspended or disbarred by any court, bar, or Federal or State agency to which the individual was previously admitted to practice and has not been subsequently reinstated.
(5)?The Secretary may prescribe in regulations reasonable restrictions on the amount of fees that an agent or attorney may charge a claimant for services rendered in the preparation, presentation, and prosecution of a claim before the Department. ?A fee that does not exceed 20 percent of the past due amount of benefits awarded on a claim shall be presumed to be reasonable.
(6)(A)?The Secretary may charge and collect an assessment from an individual recognized as an agent or attorney under this section in any case in which the Secretary pays to the agent or attorney, from past-due benefits owed to a claimant represented by the agent or attorney, an amount as a fee in accordance with a fee arrangement between the claimant and the agent or attorney.
(B)?The amount of an assessment under subparagraph (A) shall be equal to five percent of the amount of the fee required to be paid to the agent or attorney, except that the amount of such an assessment may not exceed $100.
(C)?The Secretary may collect an assessment under subparagraph (A) by offsetting the amount of the fee otherwise required to be paid to the agent or attorney from the past-due benefits owed to the claimant represented by the agent or attorney.
(D)?An agent or attorney who is charged an assessment under subparagraph (A) may not, directly or indirectly, request, receive, or obtain reimbursement for such assessment from the claimant represented by the agent or attorney.
(E)?Amounts collected under this paragraph shall be deposited in the account available for administrative expenses for veterans' benefits programs. ?Amounts so deposited shall be merged with amounts in such account and shall be available for the same purpose, and subject to the same conditions and limitations, as amounts otherwise in such account.
(b)?Suspension of agents and attorneys.--The Secretary, after notice and opportunity for a hearing, may suspend or exclude from further practice before the Department any agent or attorney recognized under this section if the Secretary finds that such agent or attorney--
(1)?has engaged in any unlawful, unprofessional, or dishonest practice;
(2)?has been guilty of disreputable conduct;
(4)?has violated or refused to comply with any of the laws administered by the Secretary, or with any of the regulations or instructions governing practice before the Department;
(5)?has in any manner deceived, misled, or threatened any actual or prospective claimant;
(6)?has presented to the Secretary a frivolous claim, issue, or argument, involving conduct inconsistent with ethical standards for the practice of law;
(7)?has been suspended or disbarred by any court or bar to which such agent or attorney was previously admitted to practice, or has been disqualified from participating in or appearing before any Federal agency, and has not been subsequently reinstated;
(8)?has charged excessive or unreasonable fees, as determined by the Secretary in accordance with subsection (c)(3)(A); ?or
(9)?has failed to comply with any other condition specified in regulations prescribed by the Secretary for purposes of this subsection.
(c)(1)?Except as provided in paragraph (4), in connection with a proceeding before the Department with respect to benefits under laws administered by the Secretary, a fee may not be charged, allowed, or paid for services of agents and attorneys with respect to services provided before the date on which a notice of disagreement is filed with respect to the case. ?The limitation in the preceding sentence does not apply to fees charged, allowed, or paid for services provided with respect to proceedings before a court.
(2)?A person who, acting as agent or attorney in a case referred to in paragraph (1) of this subsection, represents a person before the Department or the Board of Veterans' Appeals after a notice of disagreement is filed with respect to the case shall file a copy of any fee agreement between them with the Secretary pursuant to regulations prescribed by the Secretary.
(3)(A)?The Secretary may, upon the Secretary's own motion or at the request of the claimant, review a fee agreement filed pursuant to paragraph (2) and may order a reduction in the fee called for in the agreement if the Secretary finds that the fee is excessive or unreasonable.
(B)?A finding or order of the Secretary under subparagraph (A) may be reviewed by the Board of Veterans' Appeals under section 7104 of this title.
(C)?If the Secretary under subsection (b) suspends or excludes from further practice before the Department any agent or attorney who collects or receives a fee in excess of the amount authorized under this section, the suspension shall continue until the agent or attorney makes full restitution to each claimant from whom the agent or attorney collected or received an excessive fee. ?If the agent or attorney makes such restitution, the Secretary may reinstate such agent or attorney under such rules as the Secretary may prescribe.
(4)?A reasonable fee may be charged or paid in connection with any proceeding before the Department in a case arising out of a loan made, guaranteed, or insured under chapter 37 of this title. ?A person who charges a fee under this paragraph shall enter into a written agreement with the person represented and shall file a copy of the fee agreement with the Secretary at such time, and in such manner, as may be specified by the Secretary.
(d)?Payment of fees out of past-due benefits.--(1)?When a claimant and an agent or attorney have entered into a fee agreement described in paragraph (2), the total fee payable to the agent or attorney may not exceed 20 percent of the total amount of any past-due benefits awarded on the basis of the claim.
(2)(A)?A fee agreement referred to in paragraph (1) is one under which the total amount of the fee payable to the agent or attorney--
(i)?is to be paid to the agent or attorney by the Secretary directly from any past-due benefits awarded on the basis of the claim; ?and
(ii)?is contingent on whether or not the matter is resolved in a manner favorable to the claimant.
(B)?For purposes of subparagraph (A), a claim shall be considered to have been resolved in a manner favorable to the claimant if all or any part of the relief sought is granted.
(3)?To the extent that past-due benefits are awarded in any proceeding before the Secretary, the Board of Veterans' Appeals, or the United States Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, the Secretary may direct that payment of any fee to an agent or attorney under a fee arrangement described in paragraph (1) be made out of such past-due benefits. ?In no event may the Secretary withhold for the purpose of such payment any portion of benefits payable for a period after the date of the final decision of the Secretary, the Board of Veterans' Appeals, or Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims making (or ordering the making of) the award.
Cite this article: FindLaw.com - 38 U.S.C. § 5904 - U.S. Code - Unannotated Title 38. Veterans' Benefits § 5904. Recognition of agents and attorneys generally - last updated January 01, 2018 | https://codes.findlaw.com/us/title-38-veterans-benefits/38-usc-sect-5904.html
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