National Veterans Legal Services Program Newsletter

Justice for Warriors
 flag raising ladyjustice gavel
December 2013



It's hard to believe another year has passed, and as we reflect on the progress we've made in 2013 towards achieving our mission to ensure that every veteran receives the disability benefits they are owed by law, we hope you will take a moment to reflect along with us. In this issue of our e-newsletter you will read about NVLSP's latest updates, achievements, and life-changing victories made on behalf of our nation's veterans and service members.


This issue features:



Thank you for helping NVLSP make a difference in the lives of our brave men and women of the U.S. Armed Forces.




National Veterans Legal Services Program



Richard Gilgenbach
U.S. Army, 1966-1968
Served in Vietnam  

Richard Gilgenbach is a member of the class-action lawsuit Nehmer v. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. This suit was filed by NVLSP in 1986 to challenge a VA regulation which stated that chloracne is the only disease that scientific evidence shows is associated with exposure to herbicides like Agent Orange which were used by the United States in Vietnam. Richard served in the U.S. Army from 1966 to 1968, and was stationed in The Republic of Vietnam from 1967 to 1968. During his service, he recalls seeing Agent Orange being sprayed by planes overhead. "We got our base camp set up, and there was a lot of jungle around. Then they came around and sprayed and there was nothing but sand. It just killed everything. We didn't think anything of it. We were 19 years old," he recalled. A few years after returning home from Vietnam, Richard began experiencing symptoms of illnesses which are now linked to exposure to the toxic chemicals.


With no previous family history of heart disease, Richard was diagnosed with congestive heart failure in 1983, when he was only 34 years old. He reached out to the VA to apply for benefits, but his claims were denied. Richard's condition eventually worsened to the point where he required a heart transplant in 1989.


In 2010, after ischemic heart disease was added to the VA list of presumptive conditions associated with Agent Orange exposure, Richard received disability compensation - but only retroactive to 2009. NVLSP reviewed his case and found evidence that Richard was shortchanged on the amount of benefits he had received. NVLSP filed a complaint on his behalf, and Richard's effective date was pushed back several years. This earlier effective date awarded him the significant retroactive VA compensation he was entitled to all along.  

Robert Marks 
U.S. Marine, 1964-1968
Served in Vietnam

Robert Marks, also a Nehmer class member, served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1964 to 1968. He was stationed in the Republic of Vietnam from 1966 to 1967, where he was exposed to the dioxin herbicide commonly known as Agent Orange. Like Richard, Robert suffered from congestive heart failure, which began when he was 34 years old, requiring him to undergo open-heart surgery in 1977. He filed his first claim for VA benefits in 1980, unaware at the time that exposure to Agent Orange in Vietnam may have been related to his health complications. This application for disability compensation was denied by the VA.

After another heart attack in 1993, Robert had to undergo a second heart surgery, which unfortunately, would not be his last. In 2005 and in 2011 he underwent two more surgeries to treat his congestive heart failure. Being diagnosed with the disease at such a young age, and with no family history of heart disease, Robert began to suspect that his health problems may have been associated with exposure to Agent Orange while serving in Vietnam.

After his second heart attack, Robert submitted a second application to the VA for disability compensation, which was also denied at the time. In 2010 Robert was granted compensation from the VA for his ischemic heart disease because the settlement agreement in the Nehmer case requires VA to pay retroactive compensation to veterans who previously applied for benefits for a disease that is later added to the VA list of presumptive conditions. After reviewing his case, however, an NVLSP attorney determined that the VA made an error when assigning an effective date for those benefits, meaning Robert received far less than the amount he deserved by law.

NVLSP filed a complaint on his behalf, and because of the work of NVLSP attorneys in monitoring VA compliance with the Nehmer Court Orders, the VA corrected the error in his case, and Robert finally received the full retroactive benefits he deserved.

Matthew Goldberg
  U.S. Army Special Forces, 1985-2007
  Served Three Tours in Iraq

Matthew Goldberg served over 20 years in the U.S. Military, including three tours in Iraq as a member of the U.S. Army Special Forces. Two decades of serving in one of the most grueling jobs on the planet took its toll on Matthew's body and mind, and he suffered from chronic pain related to back, shoulder, hip, and knee injuries, leg numbness and post-traumatic stress disorder. The VA denied almost all of his disability claims, granting him only a limited amount of compensation, arguing there wasn't enough evidence to support the conclusion that his injuries were service-related. "It was a slap in the face," he recalled.


Thankfully, Matthew learned about the work of NVLSP through a fellow soldier. After contacting NVLSP for help, Matthew's case was placed with a volunteer attorney from DLA Piper who is a participant in the Lawyers Serving Warriors® program. The volunteer attorney was able to obtain a new medical opinion which supported Matthew's case for an increased disability rating. After NVLSP and the volunteer attorney fought for several years to get Matthew the benefits he deserved, this year the VA increased Matthew's disability rating to 100%, up from his previous 30%. Without the help of NVLSP, Matthew says, "I would've given up" and unfortunately, many veterans find themselves in this same position.

Watch the video below to hear the stories of these three veterans firsthand:

NVLSP: Fighting for Veterans of Yesterday and Today 
NVLSP: Fighting for Veterans of Yesterday and Today
CPBOawardNVLSP Receives 2013 CPBO Pro Bono Partner Award 
Left to right: Ron Abrams, NVLSP Joint Executive Director; Bart Stichman, NVLSP Joint Executive Director; Amanda Smith, Pro Bono Partner at Morgan Lewis & Bockius (and NVLSP Board Member); John Schultz, Executive Vice President and 
General Counsel at Hewlett Packard Company 

In November 2013, NVLSP, in partnership with Hewlett-Packard Company (HP) and Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, was awarded the 2013 CPBO Pro Bono Partner Award. Presented by Corporate Pro Bono, a partnership project of the Association of Corporate Counsel and the Pro Bono Institute, this award recognized Hewlett-Packard, NVLSP, and Morgan, Lewis and & Bockius for their "impactful, innovative, and sustained partnership in support of veterans."  


According to CPBO, the "partnership showcases an extraordinary commitment to pro bono service, highlights the growth of pro bono within the legal profession, and demonstrates the value of a focused effort to serve a unique community in need."


In 2008, Morgan Lewis and NVLSP filed suit in Sabo v. United States alleging that approximately 4,300 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans were illegally denied benefits. After partial resolution granted class members expedited access to review boards, attorneys were needed to provide counseling for class members interested in having their claims reheard. In response to this need, HP partnered with Morgan Lewis and NVLSP to develop a signature pro bono project for the HP legal department's U.S. staff.


Initially, HP supported the project by having volunteers from its legal department provide critical legal support as well as develop a knowledge management system to grant volunteers remote access to confidential documents of clients who were geographically dispersed. Through this management system, the partnership guided more than 150 clients through the application process.


Now, after the suit's permanent settlement, the partnership continues to provide substantive legal advice to members of the Sabo class who are eligible for Combat-Related Special Compensation. In 2010, the partnership also launched a unique pro bono project to engage more non-lawyer legal personnel in its efforts. The project involved reviewing and summarizing files from the Board of Veterans Appeals for veterans who sought pro bono assistance.


The partnership has had an invaluable impact on the lives of United States' veterans and service members.


Sandhya Kidd is the Pro Bono Coordinator at NVLSP. She manages the administrative side of the Lawyers Serving Warriors® program, and serves as the main contact person for NVLSP's partner law firms. Mrs. Kidd acts as the conduit between pro bono attorneys and NVLSP, ensuring that volunteers receive the assistance and guidance they need. Sandhya graduated with a J.D. from Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York, and earned her undergraduate degree from the University of Maryland.


After graduating law school, Mrs. Kidd worked in IP litigation at Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP for six years, before clerking with the Honorable Aida M. Delgado-Colónin Puerto Rico. In 2012, Mrs. Kidd returned to the D.C. area, and discovered the opening for Pro Bono Coordinator at NVLSP, which she found to be a great match, since it combined her interests of law and public service.


Mrs. Kidd describes how NVLSP's unique approach produces high-impact results in an extremely cost and time-efficient manner. She mentions how NVLSP effectively finds legal niches where the efforts of volunteers, in terms of both cost and time, are multiplied with regards to the impact on a veteran's life. For example, one of the signature efforts of the LSW program is to assist veterans with their applications for Combat Related Special Compensation (CRSC). For trained attorneys and advocates, this process is relatively simple, but often results in a large award for the veteran. Typical representation for a CRSC claim is about 10-20 hours of work, and results in an average of about $270 in additional monthly benefits payments and an average of about $11,000 in retroactive pay. This arrangement benefits both the veteran and the pro bono attorney because the veteran receives free legal representation and the volunteer attorney gains skills and experience in veterans law. Also, many participants in the program report a great sense of accomplishment, since they are able to clearly see the positive impact their efforts have made on the lives of the veterans they have assisted.


Asked what challenges lie ahead for NVLSP and the Lawyers Serving Warriors® program, Sandhya says that NVLSP must continue to find strategies to translate the time and commitment of volunteer attorneys into exponentially greater benefits for veterans. Also, NVLSP must find ways to reach out to veterans, a demographic that includes a sizable homeless population as well as peoples suffering from traumatic brain injuries and PTSD, and let them know that there is free assistance available to them.


Looking to the future, Sandhya hopes that the Lawyers Serving Warriors® program is successful in finding new opportunities to serve veterans - whether this is through new partnerships with law firms, or new projects that can replicate the past successes of the LSW program and address new critical needs for our nation's veterans and service members.


Mrs. Kidd resides in Washington D.C., with her husband and two children.

EVTrecap"They Who Fought"


On November 19, NVLSP hosted its fifth annual benefit reception at The Mayflower Renaissance Hotel. The event was a huge success with over 150 attendees. During the reception, we honored two advocates who have made substantial contributions towards improving the lives of United States veterans and service members: Gordon P. Erspamer, Retired Partner at Morrison & Foerster LLP, and Martha Raddatz, Chief Global Affairs Correspondent at ABC News. Jake Tapper, Chief Washington Correspondent and Anchor at CNN, presided over the event.


Platinum Sponsors:

Gold Sponsors:




Leading sponsors of the event included: Finnegan, Henderson, Farabow, Garret & Dunner LLP, Wilmer, Cutler, Pickering, Hale & Dorr LLP, DLA Piper LLP, Hewlett-Packard Company, Kirkland & Ellis LLP, Morgan, Lewis, & Bockius LLP and Sidley Austin LLP. Support from these partners help provide the resources necessary for NVLSP to continue to serve United States veterans and service members. 


View the photo album from the reception here.   

OnTheHillOn the Hill

The House Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs Taps NVLSP Joint Executive Director Ronald Abrams to Testify on the Issue of Complex VA Disability Claims


The House Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs requested the expert opinion of NVLSP on the subject of adjudicating the Department of Veterans Affairs' most complex disability claims, in order to ensure quality, accuracy and consistency on complicated issues. NVLSP Joint Executive Director Ronald Abrams commented on the different types of complex claims and the factors that make a claim complex. Mr. Abrams also made a number of recommendations for policy changes which he believes would greatly improve the accuracy and efficiency of adjudicating these types of disability claims. 


Mr. Abrams testified that there are essentially three types of complex claims: first, there are claims which, by their very nature, are inherently complicated - these would include claims for entitlement to special monthly compensation (SMC), traumatic brain injury (TBI), the evaluation of joint conditions, service connection for PTSD (including claims for military sexual trauma (MST)), claims for secondary service connection, claims for service connection based on presumption, and claims for an increase in disability rating for a service connected back disability. Next, there are certain claims which have the capacity to become very complicated - for example, claims for direct and presumptive service connection, and claims that become complex as a result of VA errors (claims that are not properly adjudicated and prematurely denied).


Errors made at VA regional offices complicate claims, and among the most egregious of these errors is the premature adjudication of a claim without satisfying the VA statutory duty to assist the claimant by obtaining the evidence needed to substantiate the claim. Abrams noted that in many of these cases, the veteran would have to appeal to the Board of Veterans Appeals or the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims. This could mean that due to VA error, a simple claim could take years to eventually resolve.


Another serious issue that Mr. Abrams raised during his testimony is the VA error rate for these complex claims. Currently, the rate of error is estimated to be between 30 - 40%, with the most common errors being premature denials, under evaluation of mental conditions, under evaluation of joint disabilities, failure to consider presumptive service connection, and failure to inform VA medical examiners what facts have been accepted as true by VA adjudicators. With an error rate as high as 30 - 40% for complex claims, it is unrealistic to assume that the accuracy rate at VA regional offices will ever reach its set goal of 98%.


Mr. Abrams offered a number of recommendations for addressing these serious issues. First, the VA should be required to submit to an independent quality review to validate the quality of work performed in the individual VA regional offices. Second, the pay grade levels of VA raters and Decision Review Officers should be raised on the condition that these employees are held accountable for the quality of their work. Third, Congress needs to continue to provide additional funding for more adjudicators. Fourth, adjudicating from electronic records is a laudable goal if complete records can be obtained and if the database permits logical searches. And finally, the adjudication culture at the VA regional offices needs to be changed. Many VA managers unfortunately act like they are producing widgets rather than adjudicating claims filed by real people. Their goal should not be just prompt adjudication; the goal should be a timely, accurate and fair adjudication - which in the long run is the fastest way to finally adjudicate claims. Abrams noted that the current VA management is trying to do this but stressed that more needs to be done.


LathamDonationLawyers Serving Warriors® Receives Contribution from Latham & Watkins LLP

NVLSP was fortunate enough to receive a generous contribution from one of our pro bono partners, Latham & Watkins LLP, as part of their "Our Community Investment" program. During on-campus interview sessions at law schools, Latham identified four nonprofit organizations to share a $20,000 contribution based on student feedback. We are thrilled to announce that as a result of the campaign, the Lawyers Serving Warriors® program was awarded a gift of $4,200. At NVLSP, we sincerely appreciate the generous gift from one of our valued pro bono partners, and we wish to thank all of the students who cast their votes to support the work that NVLSP does on behalf of our nation's veterans and service members.

BTCupdateNVLSP Publications Updates


The Basic Training Correspondence Course for Veterans Benefits


NVLSP has updated the Basic Training Correspondence Course to reflect recent changes in U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) programs and benefits.


The Basic Training Course on Veterans Benefits is a 136-page manual designed for anyone who helps veterans and their family members obtain benefits from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The course is also useful in making claimants more informed about their VA benefits.

The training course helps service officers, veterans, lawyers, paralegals and others better understand the rules for obtaining veterans benefits and how to deal with the VA. The Basic Training Course on Veterans Benefits will give you vital information and a basic understanding of the system that will help you work more effectively with the VA.

This basic course covers almost every VA benefit, with special emphasis on entitlement to compensation and pension benefits, as these are often especially difficult to obtain.

Veterans Benefits Manual - 2013 Edition



NVLSP has published the completely revised 2013 Edition of The Veterans Benefits Manual, which has been thoroughly updated to include important developments in veterans law over the past year.


This exhaustive manual is an indispensable guide for advocates who help veterans and their families obtain benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs.


User-friendly, well-indexed, and packed with practical information, it includes sample forms and briefs, flowcharts, checklists, citations to legal authorities, and other documents designed to streamline the claims process and save you and your veteran client valuable time.


Written by practicing lawyers at the National Veterans Legal Services Program, this manual contains valuable insight and analysis from a team of experts on the front line of veterans law. Use their first-hand experience fighting for veterans' rights and their insider's view of the Department of Veterans Affairs to obtain the benefits your client earned.

See more at: 
guidestarNVLSP Receives Gold Rating from 

In 2013, NVLSP received a gold rating, the highest possible, from Guidestar is a nonprofit organization that gathers and disseminates information on the mission, legitimacy, impact, reputation, finances, programs, transparency, and governance of nonprofit organizations. Guidestar's goal is to revolutionize philanthropy by providing information that advances transparency, enabling users to make better decisions about their charitable giving.

View NVLSP's profile on here: 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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