NVLSP uses litigation to obtain changes in government practices that unfairly or illegally deny benefits to veterans. Over the years, victories in lawsuits brought by the National Veterans Legal Services Program against the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the branches of the U.S. military have resulted in payment of more than four billion dollars in benefits to veterans and their families.
Among NVLSP's legal victories:
- Sabo v. United States: In 2012, forcing the U.S. military services to pay lifetime disability retirement benefits to 1,029 veterans who were discharged from the military due to post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) following wartime service in Iraq or Afghanistan. The class action lawsuit alleged that the military services violated the law by failing to assign a 50% disability rating to those discharged for PTSD – a disability rating that entitles the veteran to disability retirement benefits, including military healthcare for the veteran, the veteran’s spouse, and their minor children.
- Nehmer v. U.S. Veterans Administration: Obtaining a class action order that allowed Vietnam veterans and their families to receive disability and death benefits for diseases that scientific studies show are associated with exposure to Agent Orange. Between 1991 and 2012, this court order forced VA to pay more than $3 billion in retroactive disability and death benefits to Vietnam veterans and their survivors for diseases connected to Agent Orange exposure (Nehmer v. U.S. Veterans Administration).
- Military Order of the Purple Heart and NVLSP v. Secretary of Veterans Affairs: In 2009, obtaining a court decision invalidating a rule that required VA to (a) withhold from veterans any VA decision awarding a large amount of retroactive benefits and (b) send the decision to VA officials in Washington, D.C. to allow them to review and modify the large award without the knowledge or participation of the veteran-claimant.
- McClain v. Nicholson: In 2007, establishing a court precedent prohibiting VA from denying disability benefits simply because the veteran did not continuously suffer from the disability throughout the entire course of VA’s handling of a claim. This is important because, at times, it takes VA many years to make a final decision on a claim. The court ruled that to satisfy the requirement of a “current disability,” the veteran only needs to have suffered from the claimed disability at some point between the filing of the claim and the VA’s final decision.
- Gutierrez v. Principi: In 2004, establishing the binding court precedent that to be entitled to disability compensation for an undiagnosed illness, veterans of the Persian Gulf War or the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan do not need to submit objective medical evidence or prove that the illness is connected to service.
- Liesegang v. Secretary of Veterans Affairs: Obtaining court orders requiring the VA to assign May 8, 2001, rather than July 9, 2001, as the effective date for an award of benefits under the VA’s Agent Orange diabetes regulation, and to pay two months of additional disability benefits (an aggregate of over $10 million) to 14,000 Vietnam veterans suffering from type 2 diabetes.
- Giusti-Bravo v. Secretary of Veterans Affairs: In the 1990s, forcing the VA to pay over $60 million in retroactive disability benefits (plus tens of millions of dollars in additional future disability benefits) to over 600 Puerto Rican veterans with service-connected mental disorders whose total disability ratings had been reduced under special (and more restrictive) rules used by the VA only in Puerto Rico
- Vietnam Veterans of America v. U.S. Veterans Administration: In 1987, obtaining an injunction prohibiting the VA from closing seven of its Vet Centers, the readjustment counseling centers operated by the VA for needy veterans.
- Wood v. Secretary of Defense: In 1980, obtaining a class action order requiring the Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force to upgrade the less than honorable discharges issued to hundreds of veterans because of their purely civilian conduct while they were in the inactive reserves, when they had no military duties other than to keep the military apprised of their current address.
- Giles v. Secretary of the Army: In 1980, obtaining a class action order requiring the Army to upgrade to Honorable the derogatory discharges illegally issued to over 7,000 Vietnam veterans.