"They know it firsthand," said Violante, a Vietnam veteran. "They've been involved on a personal level, in addition to being trained to help others get through the process."
States also help veterans. West Virginia's Department of Veterans' Assistance, recently elevated to Cabinet-level, has 16 field offices with trained service officers that provide free assistance, spokeswoman Heather Miles said.
"For this reason, the (department) is confident that West Virginia's veterans and their dependents have access to quality claims assistance under the current system," Miles said.
Veterans often have more than one condition they attribute to their military service. Those returning from Iraq and Afghanistan on average are claiming eight to nine ailments. For those who have come back since mid-2011, the average is 11 to 14. Failing to identify all of a veteran's service-related claims at the onset can mean a delay in resolving their case or insufficient benefits, Huffman said. He offered the example of a veteran with a service-related back injury who has begun suffering depression as a result, but his pending benefit request fails to make that connection.
This reality makes the policy limiting lawyer involvement unfair and counter-productive, Huffman argues.
"So, you either throw the veteran under the bus by handling just what's on appeal - that's a lot easier - or you represent him correctly, on everything," Huffman said. "I did not want to throw the veteran under the bus."
The Disabled American Veterans has opposed fee-charging lawyers, Violante said.
"We don't believe that veterans should have to pay for their earned benefits," said Violante, who is also a lawyer. "We've seen a lot of egregious cases where veterans have paid an awful lot of money (to attorneys) regardless of the level of representation."
While the DAV now accepts the policy change, its members have adopted a resolution asking Congress to cap attorneys' fees, Violante said.
"Attorneys are in the process, for better or worse," he said. "I think that we would oppose bringing them in on the initial claims process."
Huffman likens his situation to that of David versus Goliath, but believes the cause is worthy.
"I'm 65, I can retire. I don't have to do this. I get veterans benefits myself," he said. "But I like to do this, and I want to see that the veterans are taken care of. I can't imagine how many Second World War veterans died without even knowing what their benefits were."