Putting Veterans First
Since 1933, veterans of the United States armed services have been frustrated by laws that prohibited courts from reviewing VA decisions that denied veterans benefits. But since 1988, with the landmark Veterans’ Judicial Review Act, veterans who are denied benefits by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) can appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims.
Unfortunately, for many veterans the promise of effective judicial review has proved elusive. More than 70% of those who appeal to the Court do not have a representative at the time they file their appeal. This is in large part because they are unable to afford a lawyer.
This is where the National Veterans Legal Service Program steps in to help.
NVLSP attorneys individually represent hundreds of deserving veterans and servicemembers each year, free of charge, before the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims. In 95% of these cases, NVLSP obtains a reversal or has the case sent back to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals for further review.
The impact of our work is life-changing.
U.S. Army Captain Ray Fleig was serving in Iraq in 2007 when insurgents attacked his base. He has no memory of the rocket attack, but his wife Mrs. Tiffany Fleig knows all too well what happened and how serious his brain injury and other wounds really were. “Ray had shrapnel injuries. He took them to the abdomen, and, unfortunately, through his head . . . and he still has shrapnel within – just random pieces all over his body.”
Tiffany called NVLSP seeking help. NVLSP, through its Lawyers Serving Warriors® (LSW) program, helped Ray obtain the maximum amount of disability retirement pay from the U.S. Army.
NVLSP determined however, that the VA failed to properly compensate Ray. NVLSP arranged to have Ray represented by volunteer attorneys from Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP. Partnering with NVLSP, the WilmerHale attorneys helped Ray obtain a large increase in his monthly compensation benefits.
The monthly disability payment Ray and his family receive from the VA more than doubled, thanks to the work of his volunteer attorneys. Upon receiving news of the attorneys’ success, Tiffany said, “It seems too good to be true. I am speechless. Thank you so much for all of your hard work. Words cannot explain how grateful we are and how much weight this will take off of my shoulders.” Ray’s doing better today. “I’m just such a lucky man, to have such a beautiful wife and such an amazing little girl. For Tiffany to stick by me when I was in such horrible condition, and take care of me and take care of my daughter so well . . . I’m blessed,” said Ray.
On July 7, 2007, U.S. Army Captain Patrick Horan was shot in the head while commanding his Stryker Brigade platoon on patrol in Baghdad. The first reports were that Patrick had been killed. While these reports were incorrect, his injuries were terrifying for his family and especially his wife, Mrs. Patty Horan. Doctors did not give Patty much hope.
U.S. Army doctors at the hospital in Balad, Iraq performed surgery on Pat’s skull, almost certainly saving his life. He was then airlifted to Landstuhl, Germany and then medevaced to Bethesda Naval Hospital for additional surgeries. The gunshot resulted in severe damage to the speech and language center of Pat’s brain. Pat’s rehabilitation involved having to re-learn the most basic tasks of daily life.
Throughout Patrick’s road to recovery, one of the biggest challenges Pat and Patty encountered was dealing with the military and VA disability adjudication systems. Patty assembled a legal team that included a Soldier’s Counsel provided by the U.S. Army as well as the pro bono services of the law firm of Hogan Lovells. Realizing the complexity of these disability systems, Hogan Lovells called NVLSP seeking help and expertise.
NVLSP determined that Pat’s disabilities were under-evaluated by the VA. This meant that Pat and his family would be short changed by almost $50,000 per year. Working with the U.S. Army’s Soldier’s Counsel and attorneys at Hogan Lovells, NVLSP developed a legal strategy explaining how the severity of Captain Horan’s injuries qualified him for a higher level of compensation. They were successful. The VA awarded Captain Horan the maximum amount of monthly compensation benefits he was entitled to receive.
As Patrick’s wife Patty explains, “NVLSP changed our life. Without their help, Patrick seemed to be headed down an endless process to get what he rightfully deserved as a result of his injuries.”
U.S. Air Force Technical Sergeant Aimee Sherrod served three deployments in the U.S. Air Force as an aircraft inspector from 2001-2005 as part of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. After Aimee was diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), she was discharged without the military retirement benefits to which she was entitled and short changed on her VA claim. Aimee’s attorney through NVLSP’s LSW project successfully appealed her VA claim. She is one of the seven veterans that filed the Sabo v. United States class action lawsuit in 2008 contesting the government’s illegal denial of retirement benefits for thousands of veterans with PTSD. Under the settlement approved by the judge in 2011, she and her husband will receive health care benefits for life and their three children will receive health care benefits until at least age 18. The stacks of medical bills that Aimee and her husband incurred for seven years following her discharge will be reimbursed. She is eligible to apply for Combat Related Special Compensation (CRSC) and, like other military retirees, she can now use the military commissary and post exchange. Aimee says that one of the best rewards of the lawsuit settlement was getting her military identification card stamped “retired.” It means her service to her country mattered.