Making Change Happen
As the voice of veterans' rights since 1980, the National Veterans Legal Services Program takes pride in its record of achievement.
One of NVLSP’s first battles was to assist soldiers with “bad paper” – those who emerged from the military without fully honorable discharge. Many received this discharge status unfairly, and were handicapped in pursuing careers, building families, and gaining access to veterans’ benefits.
NVLSP’s litigation and policy work led to upgrades in the bad discharges issued to thousands of deserving veterans - making it easier for them to get good jobs and lead productive lives - and left in place a fairer system to adjudicate similar cases in the future.
Beginning in the early 1980s, NVLSP channeled its efforts to help disabled veterans who had applied to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for disability compensation and health care, but whose claims had been unfairly denied. Great Depression-era legislation was preventing claimants who had been denied VA benefits from appealing the decision to a court of law. Despite its obvious unfairness, this restriction from court review remained in force for more than five decades.
The reform of the VA benefits system began with the enactment of the Veterans’ Judicial Review Act of 1988, allowing veterans to appeal to a newly created U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims. NVLSP was instrumental in getting this landmark legislation passed.
Over the 25 years since this legislation was enacted, NVLSP has taken advantage of access to the courts by filing lawsuits to enforce the law in instances where the VA or the military services has denied benefits to veterans in violation of law. NVLSP’s success in these lawsuits has forced the VA and the military services to pay more than $4.5 billion in disability and death benefits to hundreds of thousands of veterans and their survivors.
To bolster the success of this new system, NVLSP also worked to ensure that veterans could secure representation on appeal from other advocates. NVLSP has been in the forefront of creating a national safety net for veterans who had been unable to obtain an advocate.
Since 1991, NVLSP has published the Veterans Benefits Manual, a 1,900-page treatise on veterans law. Each year, NVLSP attorneys edit a new edition of this journal with the latest updates on the changes in veterans law and new advocacy tips. This is the only publication of its kind and is widely used by thousands of veterans, attorneys and veterans advocates across the nation.
We partner alongside the American Legion, the Military Order of the Purple Heart, Vietnam Veterans of America, and the Military Officers Association of America to ensure that their VA-accredited representatives are up to date on the law and trained with the latest advocacy techniques.
We continue to see progress through ongoing recruitment, training, and publishing of advocacy materials for thousands of volunteer attorneys and lay advocates who represent veterans – free of charge - before the Courts, the VA, and military discharge review boards.