National Veterans Legal Services Program Newsletter

Justice for Warriors
   
 flag raising ladyjustice gavel
Summer 2013
Dear Friend, 

Greetings!

 

It's been a busy summer at the National Veterans Legal Services Program. We have been hard at work screening cases, representing veterans and active duty military personnel, and training attorneys and advocates. 

 

NVLSP remains in the forefront of creating a safety net for veterans who have been unable to obtain the benefits to which they are entitled. We take great pride in our record of achievement. Why? Because every legal victory means that another veteran will receive the physical and mental healthcare they critically need.

 

In this issue of our e-newsletter, you will learn about the latest developments at NVLSP, and hear the stories of some of our recent life-changing victories on behalf of our nation's veterans and service members.


This latest issue of our newsletter features:

 navyDept. of Navy Class Action Update 
Government Admits Mistake, Agrees to Correct Errors

In July of 2012, NVLSP and Crowell & Moring LLP filed a class-action lawsuit, Bargsley v. United States, in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims on behalf of three Marine Corps veterans and a putative class of hundreds of other veterans who were medically separated from the Navy or Marine Corps without the appropriate amount of disability benefits.

A 2008 law requires the military to determine if any disabilities leading to separation from service are "combat-related". If the disability is found to be "combat-related" then the veteran is entitled to both a lump-sum disability severance payment from the military and monthly disability compensation from the VA.

The Army and Air Force promptly implemented the law, but the Navy failed to do so. After realizing the mistake, the Navy started making combat-related determinations on an ongoing basis, but never took action to correct the failure to make these determinations in the past. This left hundreds of veterans who were medically separated from service without the proper amount of disability compensation.

As a result of the lawsuit brought by NVLSP and Crowell & Moring, the Government has since announced that it would unilaterally take action to correct these errors without a court order.

Since then, the Government has reviewed the records of thousands of Sailors and Marines and determined that the disability that led to discharge for over 600 of these veterans should have been classified as "combat-related". Their records have been corrected and the VA has been notified of the change so that they can determine the amount of money, if any, these veterans are owed. The three plaintiffs have already been awarded an aggregate of $50,108 in tax-free disability benefits.

successRecent Victories

 

NVLSP Helps a Veteran's Widow Receive Justice After the VA Unfairly Denies Her Claim for 15 Years

 

A Persian Gulf War veteran passed away from brain cancer in 1998 at the age of 40. After his death, the veteran's widow pursued a claim for service connected benefits. She claimed that her husband's brain cancer resulted from being exposed to toxic chemicals during his Gulf War service. The local VA regional office erroneously denied her claim eight times over a period of fifteen years. These denials were erroneous because the VA did not obtain an adequate medical opinion as to whether the toxic chemicals helped cause the veteran's death. The Board of Veterans' Appeals (BVA) affirmed the erroneous denials on two occasions. After each BVA denial, NVLSP helped the surviving spouse by representing her before the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims.  

 

Finally, in 2012 through NVLSP's persistence and refusal to accept the VA's failure to comply with its statutory duties to the widow, the Board of Veterans' Appeals obtained an adequate medical opinion. Unsurprisingly, the medical opinion concluded that it was likely as not that the cancer was caused by the veteran's in-service exposure to toxic chemicals. In May 2013, after a frustrating and time-consuming claims process, the VA awarded the widow monthly compensation benefits for the veteran's death retroactive to 1998. With the assistance of NVLSP attorneys who represented her before the CAVC in multiple appeals, the veteran's widow received close to $200,000 in benefits that she should have received all along, but unlawfully went without for the past fifteen years.

 

After Many Years, a Veteran Who was a Victim of Sexual Assault is Finally Vindicated After His Disability Claim was Unfairly Denied by the VA

 

In 2010, NVLSP represented a veteran before the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims (CAVC) in his appeal of the Board of Veterans' Appeals denial of his claim for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The veteran claimed his PTSD resulted from multiple incidents of traumatic sexual assault that occurred while serving in the United States Army during the 1960s. The evidence in support of his claim included evidence of in-service behavioral changes and post-service medical opinions that strongly validated that his PTSD resulted from being the victim of multiple assaults.

 

The Board denied his claim finding that there was insufficient evidence linking his PTSD to any in-service assaults because he never reported the assaults. NVLSP challenged this finding, and argued that the veteran's behavioral changes which included nervousness, irritability, and substance abuse following the claimed assaults could be used as evidence to support his account of the in-service sexual assault. NVLSP also challenged the Board's finding that medical evidence obtained post-service cannot corroborate the in-service stressor, arguing that a medical professional's opinion that a veteran's PTSD is related to an in-service sexual assault is competent, credible evidence that an assault took place.


As a result of comprehensive representation and strong arguments provided by NVLSP, the CAVC sent the case back to the Board on remand. In 2013, the veteran was finally granted service connection for his PTSD with a 50% disability rating, and was awarded over $70,000 in retroactive payments.


meetattyNVLSP's Recent Training Session

 Attorneys from NVLSP Reach Out to Assist Disabled Veterans
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Attorneys from the National Veterans Legal Services Program held a series of outreach events in the Washington, D.C. metro area to assist disabled veterans.

 

The goal of the information sessions was to help disabled veterans, spouses of veterans, caregivers for disabled veterans, and survivors of deceased veterans understand the disability benefits available to them through the Department of Veterans Affairs and learn how to apply for these benefits.

 

The most recent outreach event took place on July 23, 2013 at Cheverly American Legion Post 108 located in Cheverly, MD. About 25 to 30 veterans from a range of different service eras and age groups attended the session.

 

NVLSP attorneys Louis George and Maria Tripplaar delivered a short presentation and then conducted a Q & A session on VA benefits. The American Legion Deputy Director of Veterans Affairs and Rehabilitation Commission Richard Dumancas was also present to answer questions and offer advice. Attendees were granted the opportunity to discuss their potential claims one-on-one with an attorney. Topics that were covered included: post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury and Agent Orange related illnesses.

 

According to the VA, more than 13% of all US veterans are suffering from physical or mental disabilities sustained during their military service. The Washington area has the fifth largest concentration of military veterans in the United States, with almost 650,000 veterans living here.

 

As World War II, Korea, Vietnam and Gulf War era veterans age and injuries they incurred serving their country become more pronounced, they may not realize they qualify for disability benefits. Even Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans recently discharged or separated from military service, may not realize their disabilities can qualify them for benefits through the VA.

 

Thanks to a generous grant provided by the Phillip L. Graham Fund, NVLSP has held outreach sessions in the Washington, D.C. area to help veterans and their caregivers understand the VA benefits they might be entitled to.


winnersPro Bono Award Winners Donate to NVLSP

NVLSP has been fortunate enough to receive generous contributions from two pro bono award winners recently:

Susan Haag, a paralegal in the Denver office of Faegre Baker Daniels, recently received the 2013 Outstanding Pro Bono Service Award for her exceptional work on a Combat-Related Special Compensation case with NVLSP's Lawyers Serving Warriors® program and three Faculty of Federal Advocates bankruptcy matters. On behalf of Susan, the firm donated $1,000 in connection with the award to NVLSP.


Eric Meer, an associate in the New York office of Kirkland & Ellis LLP, was awarded the opportunity to designate a recipient of a $1,000 grant to a non-profit organization that provides free legal services, and designated NVLSP as the recipient. He was recognized by the firm for contributing over 200 hours of pro bono work last year. He has also partnered with the Lawyers Serving Warriors® program, and has successfully obtained Combat-Related Special Compensation for two Iraq veterans in connection with their PTSD and other injuries.


We thank Susan and Eric for their donations, and for partnering with NVLSP in the Lawyers Serving Warriors® program. NVLSP commends them on the honorable work they have done on behalf of veterans and service members.

boardNVLSP Welcomes Four New Board Members

NVLSP is pleased to welcome four new members to its board of directors. The new members and their respective positions are:
  • Cynthia Bright, Vice President and Assistant General Counsel at Hewlett Packard   
  • Eric Shumsky, Partner at Orrick, Herrington, and Sutcliffe LLP 
Visit our Board of Directors page to read the full bios of our new members. We are extremely grateful to our new board members for choosing to dedicate their time and energy to better the lives of United States veterans and service members.

savedateUpcoming Event
Save the Date:

Honoring Service and Sacrifice

 

A benefit reception for the National Veterans Legal Services Program


Tuesday, November 19th

6:30 - 8:30 PM

The Mayflower Renaissance Hotel

Washington, DC  

 

Join us on November 19th for a benefit reception to support the programs of the National Veterans Legal Services Program (NVLSP). This annual event honors military service members and their families and recognizes individuals, institutions, law firms and service organizations whose pro bono work has made a major contribution to NVLSP's mission. Our guest speaker and honoree for the evening will be Martha Raddatz, Senior Foreign Affairs Correspondent, ABC News.

 

Tickets and sponsorship opportunities will be available for purchase beginning in September. 
shareShare Your Story!

At NVLSP, we find it extremely rewarding when we hear the personal stories of the people affected by our work, and we believe it is important to share these stories with others. If NVLSP has helped you or your family we would like to hear from you! Please send an email to michael@nvlsp.org and describe your experience. We will be sure to respect your privacy and not disclose any identifying information.

 

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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