The primary service of the Office of General Counsel is to identify and fulfill the legal needs of the Department of Veterans Affairs. Its goal is to ensure the just and faithful execution of the laws, regulations and policies that the Secretary has responsibility for administrating thereby allowing the department to fulfill its mission of service to our veterans. Another major professional responsibility for the Office of General Counsel is the administration of claims arising under the Federal Tort Claims Act.
The Handbook and Directive 0700 are publications of the Department of Defense Affairs Office and provide policy outlines such as conducting an administrative investigation within the Department of Veterans Affairs. This book has documented procedures to be followed in order to conduct such an investigation that is in line with the policies of the Directive. One example would be the use of the No Fear Act, which protects veterans and employees from any form of discrimination or retaliation if one is a whistleblower.
Of significant importance is the Integrated Disability Evaluation System, otherwise known as IDES. It is through IDES that soldiers obtain legal counsel that helps them navigate through the Medical Evaluation Board and the Physical Evaluation Board. Without legal counsel, this is certainly a difficult task to complete. This system consists of a multitude of attorneys as well as paralegals, and provides counsel for the MEB and PEB stages of their case. There are also other supporting staff in the headquarters section of the organization should the need arise.
An important aspect of the soldiers’ disability process is that there are no lawyers on the “other side.” In spite of the fact that there are no attorneys on the opposite side, attorneys that represent soldiers regarding disability status and evaluation are still bound by a stringent code of confidentiality and representing the wishes of their client. They must keep a client’s personal and health information strictly confidential. OSC personnel exist solely to represent the soldier/client. They definitely do not represent the soldier’s command nor the military hospital.
There are three distinctive locations where soldiers should seek out the OSC. They are as follows:
- As soon as they are referred into a Medical Evaluation Board program
- When the soldier receives MDB finding
- When the soldier receives PEB findings, he or she should again schedule a consult with their SMEBC
These are the most critical times in a soldier’s case and OSC personnel are there to help during this time. OSC attorneys are encouraged to have open lines of communication so as to ensure a soldier’s interests are identified, and can lead to informal results that can benefit both the soldier and the Army while maintaining advocacy and representation of the soldier.
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