National Veterans Legal Services Program Newsletter

Justice for Warriors
Spring 2014



Welcome to our spring issue of NVLSP's "Justice for Warriors" e-newsletter. The first half of 2014 has been an exciting time for the organization. We've begun the year with a renewed effort to ensure our nation's veterans find the outstanding legal support and counsel they deserve.  


This latest update of our newsletter features:

Thank you for supporting the National Veterans Legal Services Program and helping us make a difference in the veteran community.



National Veterans Legal Services Program



NVLSP Helps 92 year-old Former POW Who Was Permanently Injured While Serving in WWII 

Army Staff Sergeant Alvin Sperling was shot in the leg by German troops in France in July 1944. He was captured and taken prisoner by German forces, put into a wheelbarrow, and then was thrown into the back of a truck and taken to a German prisoner of war (POW) camp. Sergeant Sperling received only minimal care while a POW. He was liberated when Allied forces captured the town of Rennes where he was imprisoned. He was then flown to Britain, and later to Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington DC., where he spent the next few years recovering from his wounds.


As a result of his injuries, his left leg is shorter than his right, and a fusion in his left leg left him unable to regain the ability to bend his leg. This left him with an altered gait which doctors determined had an adverse effect on his skeletal system. He suffers from lumbar, thoracic, and cervical spine stenosis, and neuropathy of both legs, feet and arms. As a result of his service connected neurological disabilities, this 92-year-old World War II veteran has lost the use of his feet and his hands. Sergeant Sperling is now confined to a wheelchair and he depends on assistance from others for his essential care including feeding, bathing, transportation, and medical needs.


This past year, Mr. Sperling's family asked NVLSP if there was anything more the VA should be doing for this war hero. NVLSP attorneys evaluated Mr. Sperling's situation and determined that the veteran was not receiving nearly $50,000 in VA disability benefits per year that he was entitled to. We also found that Mr. Sperling should have been granted entitlement to VA housing and automobile allowances, because of the injuries he received while serving his country.


NVLSP attorneys helped the veteran file a new claim for increased benefits. Shortly after the complete claim was filed, the VA regional office awarded this former POW the highest level of VA benefits possible. He received an additional $48,000 per year, and was granted entitlement to VA housing and automobile allowances. Mr. Sperling's quality of life is much improved, now that he is receiving the VA disability benefits to which he is entitled.


NVLSP achieves justice for the widow of a Vietnam Veteran, after his claim was unfairly denied for many years


A U.S. Navy veteran served honorably in the Vietnam War, where he was stationed on a ship which traveled through Vietnam's inland waterways. Because of his exposure to Agent Orange while serving in Vietnam, the veteran later developed ischemic heart disease and type 2 diabetes after returning home. He developed these disabilities despite having no family history of either condition.


His widow described the hardship that her husband suffered: "It was terrible because he was on dialysis for the last three years, and he was totally blind for the last four years. It was very hard. He was on dialysis three days a week. He had to have a port put in his chest for the dialysis, and he had to have nine surgeries before the doctor got the port right."


As his health deteriorated, the veteran learned that these diseases were scientifically linked to Agent Orange exposure. He applied for disability compensation from the VA.


The VA denied his claim in 2008, claiming there was no evidence that he served within the land borders or inland waterways of Vietnam during the War, which is a requirement to establish the presumption that he was exposed to the chemicals.


However, the VA later found evidence that the ship he served on did indeed travel through inland waterways, and the ship was added to the VA's Agent Orange Ships List. This is a list of ships stationed in Vietnam which were likely exposed to toxic Agent Orange chemicals, and all veterans who served on these ships during certain time periods are granted the presumption of exposure to Agent Orange. Such a presumption entitles them to service-connected disability compensation in the event that they develop a disease found to be scientifically associated with the dioxin.


Despite the fact that the VA later acknowledged the likelihood that veterans onboard the ship were exposed to Agent Orange, the VA never re-adjudicated the veteran's disability claims (which it was required to do under the terms of the Nehmer v. US Department of Veterans Affairs court order). After the veteran died in August 2013, his widow reached out to NVLSP for help.


After speaking with the veteran's widow, an NVLSP attorney acquired a copy of the veteran's VA claims file. Within the documents, NVSP found copies of the ship's deck logs. These documents proved that the veteran served on the ship during the time of possible exposure. NVLSP submitted this evidence to the VA. The VA agreed to correct the records, and awarded the veteran a 100% disability rating retroactive to 2008. As his survivor, his widow was awarded a sizeable sum of retroactive disability compensation, which they should have received years before. "[NVLSP] was really helpful, I just couldn't believe it... it's going to help me out a lot," she said.

EJW2Fellowship Awarded to Launch New 
Initiative Assisting MST Survivors
Equal Justice Works awarded a two-year fellowship to Tiffany Kelley, a former NVLSP law clerk, to help launch and facilitate a program at NVLSP to represent survivors of military sexual trauma (MST) on claims for VA disability benefits for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This fellowship is sponsored by Kirkland & Ellis LLP & Raytheon.


The number of U.S. service members who reported being sexually assaulted  surged by 50 percent last year, according to a recent report by the Pentagon. The most commonly diagnosed mental disorder for those who have experienced a sexual assault in the military is PTSD. Tragically, many survivors are fearful of reporting the assaults while in service, and as a result, many veterans who suffer from PTSD due to military sexual assault trauma face an exceptionally high hurdle to obtaining disability compensation. A trained advocate that can take the time necessary to review all military medical and personnel records and develop the evidence to support their claims is an invaluable resource for these survivors. Unfortunately, there is currently a severe shortage of expert pro bono representation available for MST survivors. This project will work to address this issue head-on.


As a former Army Officer and cadre member with a Warrior Transition Unit (a unit designed to support Soldiers who are wounded, injured, or ill), Ms. Kelley is uniquely qualified to spearhead this new project. She will be identifying potential law firms who can partner with NVLSP and make pro bono representation of MST survivors a signature project within their firm. She will also conduct outreach to organizations involved in assisting MST survivors, and file Freedom of Information Act requests on behalf of MST victims to obtain their VA claims files. Ms. Kelley will also help develop a complete body of training materials for the pro bono attorneys who will participate in the project.


Equal Justice Works is the national leader in creating public interest opportunities for law students and lawyers. Collaborating with the nation's leading law schools, law firms, corporate legal departments and nonprofit organizations, Equal Justice Works offers a continuum of opportunities that provide the training and skills that enable attorneys to provide effective representation to underserved communities and causes. Equal Justice Works is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.

trainingTraining & Education Update

One of NVLSP's primary goals is to train advocates in veterans law so that they can efficiently help veterans and their family members secure the benefits they are owed from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). NVLSP believes it is essential to train attorneys and non-attorney advocates in order to increase the quality of legal resources available to assist United States veterans. This year, NVLSP has continued its tradition of providing top-notch training and education in veterans law to the following constituencies:


Des Moines, Iowa

On April 15-16, NVLSP attorneys Louis George and Maria Tripplaar trained about 130 state service officers at the Iowa Department of Veterans Affairs. Topics covered included veterans advocacy, legal research, and ethics. Attendees were granted Continuing Legal Education Credits for participating in this training.


Galveston, Texas

On April 12, Louis George, Director of Training and Publications at NVLSP, spoke before the Military and Veterans Law Section of the State Bar of Texas on the topic of best practices and common pitfalls for attorneys practicing before the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims. About 40 Texas attorneys that work on veterans issues attended. 


Veterans Consortium Pro Bono Program

As a founding member and principal trainer of the Veterans Consortium Pro Bono Program, NVLSP conducts educational sessions for participating volunteer attorneys on a regular basis. This year, NVLSP has conducted a number of trainings on behalf of the Consortium. Examples of recent trainings include: a session sponsored by the DC Bar Pro Bono Program on May 2nd in Washington, DC, a training held on May 5th sponsored by Crowe & Dunlevy in association with the American Health Lawyers Association in Oklahoma City, and a session sponsored by Kirkland & Ellis in Chicago which took place on May 7th. The topic explored in each of these trainings was providing pro bono representation before the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans' Claims.

CAVC Bar Association 2014 Veterans Law Conference and CLE

On June 6, NVLSP Joint Executive Director Ron Abrams will be featured on a panel discussing evidence gathering and assessment at the CAVC Bar Association 2014 Veterans Law Conference and CLE at the Washington Navy Yard and Conference Center. 


More info available here: 

VA_RuleNVLSP Opposes VA Rule Change

NVLSP and the Military Order of the Purple Heart expressed opposition to a new rule proposed by the Department of Veterans Affairs, entitled "Standard Claims and Appeal Forms" which would change the process by which disability claims are filed. The VA is proposing to implement new standardized forms for filing an initial claim and for filing a Notice of Disagreement when a veteran disagrees with a VA claim decision.


NVLSP and MOPH oppose the rule because it creates a segregation of veterans into different groups, based on their access to a computer with internet access. More specifically, under this proposed regulation, a veteran who submits an incomplete claim electronically would receive the earliest possible effective date, even though the application was incomplete. In contrast, a veteran who submits an incomplete paper claim would only receive the earliest effective date if the complete application is submitted within a year. Therefore, under the proposed rule, a veteran who submits a paper claim for disability compensation, and who inadvertently fails to check a single box on the VA form, may lose thousands of dollars in VA disability benefits.


Also, under the new rules communications that have historically been accepted as claims by the VA would no longer be considered as a request/application/claim for benefits sufficient to preserve an effective date (the date from which benefits are paid) for those benefits. Many veterans would be hurt by this proposed rule. Some veterans would be paid from a later date costing them many thousands of dollars and other veterans may fall through the cracks if the VA sent its letter to the wrong address.


If these incomplete/informal claims were put under computer control the VA could follow up. Under the proposed rule there does not seem to be a way for the VA to track these attempted claims. The burden falls on the veteran. Because the VA would not have to put incomplete claims under computer control, the number of claims pending before the VA would be reduced. Also, because only complete claims would be computer controlled, the VA could report faster processing times. These better numbers would make it seem that the VA was adjudicating claims at a faster rate and that there were fewer claims waiting to be adjudicated. Thus, the re-definition of what is a claim would help VA show better statistics without any real improvement on its part.


NVLSP and MOPH have submitted their comments to the Department of Veterans Affairs in hopes that the department reconsiders this proposed rule change.

Ms. E. Lane Thompson is a program manager and staff attorney at NVLSP. Her primary responsibilities involve class-action litigation, with the majority of her efforts dedicated to ensuring that members of the Sabo v. United States class-action receive proper treatment by the military services and that the veterans are assigned the proper military disability rating. Ms. Thompson graduated with a J.D. from the University of Texas at Austin School of Law, and earned her undergraduate degree from The College of William and Mary in Virginia.


Before joining NVLSP, Lane previously worked in commercial litigation for a small law firm in Washington, DC. She learned about the work of the organization through a friend and former NVLSP attorney. As a former military spouse and President of the American Legion Auxiliary Unit in her town of Cheverly, Maryland, Lane came to NVLSP with an existing passion for veterans issues.


Ms. Thompson is currently tasked with monitoring the military's compliance with the settlement agreement in Sabo v. United States. Today, more than two years after the settlement received final approval, most of the benefits of the lawsuit have been awarded to class members. Problems still exist however - NVLSP has had to address the failure of the Government to act within a reasonable period of time to: correct the records of dozens of class members in a way that is consistent with the Settlement; establish retired pay accounts for hundreds of class members so that they can receive CRSC payments; and calculate whether hundreds of class members are entitled to additional military disability retirement benefits as a result of the Settlement.


When asked what part of her position she finds most rewarding, Lane describes speaking with veterans who have been treated unfairly and are often understandably cynical and frustrated with the process. She says that when a positive resolution for these veterans is achieved, the result is especially rewarding. She mentions that the Sabo class action has had a positive impact in the lives of veterans in a number of different ways:

  • Many class members received significant financial benefits, including free military healthcare for themselves, their spouses, and their children under 18, which in many cases had a profound effect on their lives and the lives of their families. Many of these veterans were near bankruptcy as a result of medical bills and a lack of income due to disabilities. The benefits they were awarded were life-saving.
  • Many class members also had their military status amended to permanently retired. For these veterans, this change amounted to having their identities reclaimed - they are officially retired with their rank intact, and can now go on base, access the military commissary and Post Exchange, and participate in their military communities.
  • Finally, for others it was important that the military simply acknowledge that they had made a mistake, and correct the error that had been made in evaluating their disability rating. These veterans frequently mention that the Sabo lawsuit has allowed them to lay a lingering grievance to rest and to move forward positively.

In July of last year NVLSP hosted an outreach event at the American Legion Post 108 in Cheverly, MD, where Lane serves as President of the American Legion Auxiliary Unit. The goal of the session was to help disabled veterans and their families understand the disability benefits available to them and learn how to apply for these benefits. Going forward, Lane hopes to find more opportunities for NVLSP and local veterans service organizations to cooperate and help veterans on the local level.

Ms. Thompson and her husband live in Maryland with their two dogs, cat, and cockatiel.

webinarNVLSP's Webinar Series


This year, the National Veterans Legal Services Program began hosting online training sessions, or "webinars," to educate attorneys and veterans advocates on strategies for securing disability benefits for their clients. Thus far, NVLSP has presented four webinar sessions on recent legal developments regarding claims for a total disability rating based on individual unemployability (TDIU). These sessions were presented by NVLSP Joint Executive Director Ronald Abrams, and a total of about 200 people participated.


Future topics to be covered include:

  • Secondary Service Connection
  • Most Common VA Errors
  • Agent Orange/Nehmer
  • Tips on Winning IU
For more info, or to purchase upcoming webinars, visit: To be notified about future webinars when they become available, click the sign-up button below.


erspamerLegendary Veteran Advocate,  
Gordon P. Erspamer's Living Memory Fund 


It is with heavy hearts that we share the news of legendary veteran advocate and long-time NVLSP ally, Gordon P. Erspamer, being recently diagnosed with inoperable Glioblastoma, one of the most deadly and aggressive forms of brain cancer. Undoubtedly one of the most dedicated and accomplished legal advocates for the rights of United States veterans, Gordy has tirelessly fought on behalf of thousands of disabled veterans in numerous lawsuits over the past three decades.

When asked about Gordy, NVLSP Joint Executive Director, Ron Abrams, told a reporter, "He bored into their sanctum of sanctums, their holy places. Gordy, through his lawsuits, exposed the dark side of the VA to the public. For that, he should be in the hall of fame of people who have tried to help veterans."

Now Gordy is asking his friends and colleagues to contribute to the "Gordon P. Erspamer Living Memory Fund" in his honor.

Click here to view Gordy's acceptance speech for NVLSP's Outstanding Public Service Award presented in November, 2013

A message from Gordy and his wife, Trish Bare:

"Trish and I appreciate everyone's attention and care. We do have one request. Rather than spend money on flowers to cheer us, we ask that you make donations to Swords to Plowshares or National Veterans Legal Services Program, which is to be used to provide legal representation and advocacy for disabled veterans and their survivors."

In the dedication field, please indicate that your donation is in honor of the "Gordon P. Erspamer Living Memory Fund."

Online donations can be made here: Donate Online

Donations can also be sent by mail to:

Attn: Development
National Veterans Legal Services Program
P.O. Box 65762
Washington, DC 20035

NVLSP Awarded Seal of Excellence from
Independent Charities of America

The Independent Charities Seal of Excellence is awarded to the members of Independent Charities of America and Local Independent Charities of America that have, upon rigorous independent review, been able to certify, document, and demonstrate on an annual basis that they meet the highest standards of public accountability, program effectiveness, and cost effectiveness.  These standards include those required by the US Government for inclusion in the Combined Federal Campaign, probably the most exclusive fund drive in the world.  Of the 1,000,000 charities operating in the United States today, it is estimated that fewer than 50,000, or 5 percent, meet or exceed these standards, and, of those, fewer than 2,000 have been awarded this Seal.  

 amazonNVLSP Partners with AmazonSmile
NVLSP is now participating in's charitable giving program, AmazonSmile. Through this initiative, Amazon will donate a percentage of the price of purchases made through NVLSP's dedicated link below.

Shoppers will find the exact same prices on the items they are purchasing, with the added bonus of helping to raise funds to assist veterans. If you plan to shop on, please consider using the link below. Don't forget to bookmark the page so that you can help veterans every time you shop!

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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