Viterna v. McDonough, No. 22-1061 (Fed. Cir. 2023)Annotate this Case
Pitts, the surviving spouse of an Army veteran, filed for dependency and indemnity compensation from the VA in 2001. The Board of Veterans’ Appeals affirmed. In 2012, Pitts employed attorney Viterna. Their fee agreement was filed with the VA and provided that Viterna was owed 20% of any past-due benefits Pitts recovered, less certain expenses but applied only to claims for which a notice of disagreement was filed after June 20th, 2007; the NOD covering the 2001 claim was filed in 2005. Viterna asserts that this was an “unintentional drafting error.”
In 2014, Viterna secured past-due benefits for Pitts, which related back to the 2005 NOD. The agency refused to pay Viterna 20% of those benefits. The Board affirmed. Before the Veterans Court, Viterna argued that Congress only gave the VA the power to assess whether a fee agreement was valid and if its terms were excessive or unreasonable—not whether the agreement covered the claim at issue.
The Veterans Court and Federal Circuit disagreed. There was no qualifying agreement between Viterna and Pitts providing for payment of a fee for the claim in question. The court noted that between 1988-2006, attorneys could only charge fees for representing claimants after the Board’s “final decision.” In 2006, Congress amended 38 U.S.C. 5904, effective June 20th, 2007, to allow attorneys to charge for VA representation as soon as a claimant had filed a NOD seeking review of a regional office decision.