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National Veterans Legal Services Program Newsletter

 Justice for Warriors



Here at the National Veterans Legal Services Program (NVLSP) we receive kind, heartfelt notes on a regular basis thanking us for our work. It is very rewarding to know that we are making a difference in the lives of veterans. Currently, we represent more than 100,000 veterans and service members in individual cases and class action litigation and work to ensure that these men and women receive the disability benefits they have earned through their military service.


In this newsletter you will learn more about:  

  • our newest project
  • a few of the veterans and families we have helped
  • a complex VA regulation
  • one of NVLSP's dedicated attorneys

NVLSP Launches Project to Help Veterans Obtain Combat-Related Special Compensation


Over 100,000 Veterans from All Eras May Benefit


The National Veterans Legal Services Program (NVLSP) has launched a new program through its Lawyers Serving WarriorsŪ project to provide free legal representation to veterans in applying for a new federal disability benefit - Combat-Related Special Compensation (CRSC).


Because Congress believed that veterans who suffer from combat-related disabilities deserve a greater amount of disability compensation, it made veterans who are permanently retired for disability or on the Temporary Disability Retired List (TDRL) eligible for CRSC in 2008. 


CRSC can provide a veteran with hundreds of dollars per month in tax-free compensation in addition to whatever compensation the veteran may already be receiving from the VA or the military. 


"Because medical retirees have only been eligible for CRSC since 2008, our experience is that many of the tens of thousands of eligible veterans discharged before 2008 don't even know about this benefit," said attorney Tom Moore, who is overseeing the project at NVLSP.



  Justice for a Vietnam Veteran


During his three years of military service, former Army medical specialist AR served a combat tour in the Republic of Vietnam from 1966 to 1967. While serving, he distinguished himself by earning an Army Commendation Medal and Good Conduct Medal. However, due to his exposure to Agent Orange during his time in the Republic of Vietnam, AR developed ischemic heart disease and had to have several bypass surgeries as a result.  


Before contacting the National Veterans Legal Services Program (NVLSP), AR had unsuccessfully filed for service-connected benefits for heart disease on multiple occasions. In late 2010, he finally achieved service-connection for his heart disease; however, there was a problem with the VA's benefits determination. Namely, the VA applied the incorrect effective date for these benefits, which stood to have a great affect on his VA disability compensation. It was at this point that AR reached out to NVLSP's Nehmer Lawsuit Division for free legal assistance with this issue.




A Widow's Hard-Fought Battle


Mrs. R's husband was a Vietnam Veteran who served in the Navy aboard the USS Mahan from December 1962 until June 1968. After a hard-fought battle with lung cancer, he passed away in 2001.  


Mrs. R filed a claim for benefits to connect her husband's exposure to Agent Orange while serving in the military to the cancer that caused his death.  


The case went before the Department of Veterans Affairs Regional Office twice and was on its second review by the Board of Veterans' Appeals in March 2011. The Board denied Mrs. R's claim for service connection stating that the USS Mahan did not: 1) dock/anchor and have ship personnel who went ashore in Republic of Vietnam; or 2) navigate inland waterways, such that the presumption of herbicide exposure did not apply.


NVLSP staff attorneys took on this case and recently settled it at the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims.


An Excerpt from The Veterans Advocate  

(The Veterans Advocate is a veterans law advocacy journal that is published quarterly by NVLSP and covers current developments in veterans law.)  


 TVA Cover

 FAAQ: Frequently Asked Advocacy Question


The full FAAQ article is available in the January-September 2011 issue of The Veterans Advocate.




A veteran came to my office with a question about how status as a fugitive felon for a period of time affects his service-connected disability compensation benefits. Here are the facts: He has been receiving compensation for a service connected condition for many years, committed a felony, and was on probation. A few years ago a warrant was issued against him for a probation violation, but he never received notice of the warrant. Last year the VA notified him that an "overpayment" of benefits occurred while he was a fugitive felon. They stopped his monthly benefit payment and started to recoup over $20,000 in benefits that had been paid to him while he was a fugitive felon. The warrant is cleared and his benefits are expected to be reinstated once the recoupment is completed. Can the veteran fight the VA's decision that there is an

overpayment in this case? If so, what should he do?


-V.C., Washington, DC





In brief:


In essence, the veteran is questioning whether the fugitive felon rule should apply to him because he did not receive any notice of the warrant against him and was unaware that he had violated probation. Currently, the VA's Adjudication Procedures Manual Rewrite (M21-1MR), Part X, Chap. 16.3. c. provides that the VARO should contact the VA's Office of Inspector General's (OIG) Fugitive Felon Coordinator for advice when "a beneficiary admits that there was a valid felony warrant, but denies ever having received notice of the warrant."


The M21-1MR provides that the OIG Fugitive Felon Coordinator "will generally recommend that benefit payments not be discontinued if the evidence establishes that the beneficiary was unaware of the warrant or made good faith attempts to clear the warrant as soon as he/ she knew or should have known of the existence of the warrant." M21-MR, Part X, Chap. 16.3.e (emphasis added). So, VA procedures actually favor the veteran in this case, who apparently had no knowledge of the warrant.



Meet-the-Attorney: Richard V. Spataro


Rick Spataro
Richard Spataro, NVLSP Managing Attorney 

Richard V. Spataro ("Rick") is the managing attorney

of NVLSP's Nehmer Lawsuit Division. He and his team of five attorneys and a paralegal devote their time to matters associated with the class action Nehmer v. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, which involves retroactive VA benefits for herbicide-related disabilities  

He has represented numerous veterans before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, the Board of Veterans' Appeals, and VA Regional Offices. He trains advocates in veterans law and mentors attorneys who participate in NVLSP's Lawyers Serving Warriors Program and the Veterans Consortium Pro Bono Program.



National Veterans Legal Services Program


The National Veterans Legal Services Program (NVLSP) is an independent nonprofit organization that has worked since 1980 to ensure that the U.S. government keeps its pact with our nation's 25 million veterans and active duty personnel by providing them the federal benefits they have earned through their service to our country.

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