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Court Reviewing Veteran Appeals Gets More Help, Thanks to New Judges, Says NVLSP

Released 7/12/12 | Tags:

NVLSP senior staff attorney Meg Bartley fills vacancy on the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims



WASHINGTON – The backlog of cases before the United States Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims (CAVC) will hopefully grow smaller, thanks to the appointment of additional judges, say advocates at the National Veterans Legal Services Program (NVLSP).

NVLSP senior staff attorney Meg Bartley was nominated by President Obama in June 2011 to fill a vacancy on the court. Bartley was confirmed for a 15-year term by the Senate on May 24, 2012. Also confirmed was Coral Wong Pietsch, a former Brigadier General in the U.S. Army Reserve. 

“The addition of two judges to the court, which reviews appeals from veterans who are contesting the denial by the VA of a benefits claim for an illness or disability linked to their military service, will help it process appeals from veterans faster,” said Bart Stichman, co-founder and joint executive director of NVLSP. 

Stichman said, “The court has one of the highest caseloads per active judge of any federal appellate court in the country. It decides more than 600 cases per judge each year.” 

Established in 1988, the Court has exclusive jurisdiction to provide judicial review of final decisions by the Board of Veterans’ Appeals, an entity within the Department of Veterans Affairs. Stichman and NVLSP were among many who supported the establishment of the court. Since the 1930s, veterans had not been able to appeal a VA benefits denial. The CAVC changed all of that. 

But the court’s caseload has doubled in recent years. Most of the court’s cases are from veterans who served in the Persian Gulf War, in Vietnam, in Korea, or during World War II. Advocates like Stichman expect an influx of cases at the court from vets who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

“Reducing the backlog and time veterans wait for a decision to be made on an appeal is imperative. With more judges, the court will be able to decide more cases,” said Stichman. Historically, in more than 75% of the cases it has reviewed, the CAVC has found that the VA decision denying benefits contains  one or more errors.  In these cases, the court either orders the VA to pay the benefits sought or, more often, sends the case back for the VA to re-decide the claim.

At the confirmation hearing for Bartley and Wong, Senate Veterans Affairs Chairman Patty Murray noted, “The nominees sitting before us have impressive resumes, strong credentials and a long history of service.” 

Bartley and Wong will fill two vacancies on the court, bringing the number of judges to eight. One additional seat on the court remains vacant. Stichman said he hopes that the additional vacancy will soon be filled, but is relieved to see Bartley and Pietsch on the job.

“We know that Meg Bartley will work alongside the other judges to reduce the backlog and review cases judiciously and fairly,” said Stichman. “She has been an invaluable and hard-working member of our team at the National Veterans Legal Services Program for 17 years.”

Bartley worked as a senior staff attorney at NVLSP. Much of her focus was on helping service officers, the lay representatives who work for veteran service organizations and state departments of veteran affairs, handle claims and appeals.

“NVLSP training programs for the American Legion, the Military Order of the Purple Heart, the Vietnam Veterans of America and the Veterans Consortium Pro Bono Program benefited directly from Meg Bartley’s contributions and expertise,” said Ron Abrams, joint executive director of NVLSP.

She has represented veterans and their dependents and survivors before the CAVC and the Board of Veterans' Appeals since 1995. Bartley was also director of outreach and education for the Veterans Consortium Pro Bono Program, where she has served since 2005.

She was a contributing author to the Veterans Benefits Manual, the definitive treatise on law and regulations pertaining to veteran benefits published annually by NVLSP. She was the editor of The Veterans Advocate, where she previously worked as assistant editor and contributing writer.

Bartley served as a judicial law clerk for the Honorable Jonathan R. Steinberg, formerly of the CAVC. Although she is from a military family, Bartley’s interest in veterans’ benefits was sparked when she participated in a law school clinic that focused on providing representation to veterans appealing their denial of benefits.

Bartley holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Pennsylvania State University and a Juris Doctor degree from American University Washington College of Law.

Pietsch earned her Juris Doctor degree from The Catholic University of America and was commissioned into the Judge Advocate General Corps in 1974. She was the first Asian American woman to reach the rank of Brigadier General in the U.S. Army and served as a chair commissioner of the Hawaii Civil Rights Commission. 

The National Veterans Legal Services Program (NVLSP) is an independent, nonprofit veterans service organization founded in 1980 to assist veterans and their advocates. NVLSP strives to ensure that our nation honors its commitment to our 25 million veterans and active duty personnel by providing them the federal benefits they have earned through their service to our country.  NVLSP publishes numerous advocacy materials, recruits and trains volunteer attorneys, trains service officers from veterans’ service organizations, and conducts quality reviews of the VA regional offices on behalf of the American Legion. NVLSP also represents veterans and their families on claims for veterans’ benefits before the VA, the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims and other federal courts and discharge agencies. For more information go to www.nvlsp.org.

Media contact: Ami Neiberger-Miller, 703.887.4877, ami@steppingstonellc.com


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