As the voice of veterans' rights for over 40 years, the National Veterans Legal Services Program (NVLSP) works to ensure that the U.S. government keeps its pact with our nation's 22 million veterans. NVLSP is an independent nonprofit veterans service organization that has assisted veterans and their advocates since 1981.
As a conduit for change against unfair government practices, NVLSP has been instrumental in the passage of landmark veterans' rights legislation. Lawsuits brought by NVLSP attorneys have forced the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to pay hundreds of millions of dollars in benefits to veterans and their families.
NVLSP recruits, trains, and assists thousands of volunteer lawyers and veterans' advocates. Our publications empower veterans, their families, and their advocates to obtain the benefits they're entitled to by clearly outlining their rights under the law.
In 2008, NVLSP launched the Lawyers Serving Warriors® program, offering pro-bono legal help to veterans serving in Iraq and Afghanistan facing administrative separation, going through a mental evaluation board or physical evaluation board, received an inappropriate discharge characterization, filed a claim with the VA for disability compensation, or having difficulty with a claim under Traumatic Servicemembers Life Insurance.
Among NVLSP's accomplishments:
Forcing the U.S. Army in 1980 to upgrade to honorable the derogatory discharges illegally issued to over 7,000 Vietnam veterans (Giles v. Secretary of the Army, 627 F.2d 554 (D.C. Cir. 1980)
Requiring the Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force in 1980 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, which they had no military duties other than to keep the military apprised of their current address (Wood v. Secretary of Defense, 496 F. Supp. 192 (D.D.C. 1980)
Obtaining an injunction in 1987 prohibiting the VA from closing seven of its Vet Centers, the readjustment counseling centers operated by the VA for needy Vietnam veterans and other veterans.
Obtaining a class action order from a federal court in 1989 invalidating VA regulations calling for the denial of claims of Vietnam veterans and their families for disability and death benefits related to diseases that scientific studies show are associated with exposure to Agent Orange (Nehmer v. U.S. Veterans Administration, 712 F. Supp. 1404 (N.D. Cal. 1989). During the 1990s, this case resulted in the payment of tens of millions of dollars in retroactive disability and death benefits to Vietnam veterans who suffer or died from cancers connected to Agent Orange exposure. Between 1999 and 2006, NVLSP attorneys convinced federal courts that the VA had been violating the Court’s previous orders in four separate ways, resulting in three class action orders requiring payment of over $50 million in additional retroactive disability and health benefits (Nehmer v. U.S. Veterans Administration, No. C86-6160 (TEH) (N.D. Cal.) (Dec. 1, 2005 Order Granting Plaintiffs’ Motion for Clarification), appeal pending, No. 06-15179 (9th Cir.); Nehmer v. U.S. Veterans Administration, 284 F.3d 1158 (9th Cir. 2002); Nehmer v. U.S. Veterans Administration, 32 F. Supp. 2d 1175 (N.D. Cal. 1999).
Forcing the VA in the 1990s to pay over $60 million in retroactive disability benefits, plus tens of millions of dollars in increased prospective disability benefits to over 600 Puerto Rican veterans with service-connected mental disorders whose total (100 percent) disability ratings had been reduced pursuant to special substantive and procedural rules used by the VA in Puerto Rico, but nowhere else. These rules were far less favorable to these veterans than the rules in the Code of Federal Regulations and applied by the VA outside of Puerto Rico (Fernando Giusti-Bravo v. U.S. Veterans Administration, 853 F. Supp. 34 (D.P.R. 1993).
Obtaining court orders in 2002 and 2003 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 (Liesegang v. Secretary of Veterans Affairs, 312 F .3d 1368 (Fed. Cir. 2002) and Liesegang, No. 01-7109 (Fed. Cir., Order, May 15, 2003).
Establishing in 2004 the court precedent, now binding on the VA, that to be entitled to disability compensation for an undiagnosed illness, veterans of the Persian Gulf War do not need to submit objective medical evidence or prove that the illness is connected to service (Gutierrez v. Principi, 19 Vet. App. 1 (2004).
Reaching a favorable settlement in December 2011 for hundreds of veterans who served in Iraq or Afghanistan diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder who were separated from the military without the benefits they were entitled to (Sabo v. United States). Read the press release. See the video about the lawsuit.
Barton F. Stichman
Co-founder and Special Counsel, National Veterans Legal Services Program
Helping veterans and their families receive the federal veterans benefits that they need and deserve has been the focus of Barton F. Stichman’s entire legal career. He helped found NVLSP and has been its co-director or executive director for most of the organization’s existence.
Over the last forty years, his efforts as lead counsel in federal court litigation have forced the VA to pay over $100 million dollars in retroactive disability and death benefits to thousands of veterans and their families. His work has compelled military departments to pay more than $3 million in back pay and upgrade the less than honorable discharges issued to over 7,000 veterans.
Stichman helped organize the Veterans Consortium Pro Bono Program, served as its initial director of Outreach and Education, and is the primary designer of the training curriculum used by this program since 1992.
He co-authored The Rights of Military Personnel and NVLSP’s Military Discharge Upgrade Manual and has written articles on veterans law appearing in the Administrative Law Review, the American University Law Review, the Federal Bar News and Journal, Clearinghouse Review, and the Legal Times. He served in 2004 as President of the Court of Appeals for the Veterans Claims Bar Association. He has served as chair and co-chair of the Section of Administrative Law & Regulatory Practice of the American Bar Association.
He earned law degrees from New York University School of Law (J.D. 1974) and Georgetown University Law Center (L.L.M. 1975).
Director of Litigation, National Veterans Legal Services Program
Ms. Burbank supervises all individual lawsuits brought by NVLSP in U.S. district courts, Article III courts of appeals, and the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, as well as all of NVLSP’s class actions and other strategic litigation.
Before joining NVLSP, Ms. Burbank co-taught Yale Law School’s Veterans Legal Services clinic as a Robert M. Cover Clinical Teaching Fellow. During her tenure at Yale, Ms. Burbank supervised advocacy on behalf of veterans and veterans’ organizations at all levels of administrative and judicial review as well as class actions and impact litigation. Prior to that, Ms. Burbank worked for nearly eight years as a litigator at the U.S. Department of Justice, where she worked on complex commercial litigation at both the trial and appellate levels. Ms. Burbank’s work earned her several accolades including a Civil Division Special Commendation Award.
Ms. Burbank is a graduate of the University of Chicago (A. B., with honors) and Harvard Law School (J.D., cum laude), and clerked for the Honorable David B. Sentelle of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. She has written scholarly work on a variety of topics, including veterans law, disability rights, voting rights, and illegal exactions. She is an active member in good standing of the Connecticut and North Carolina State Bars, and a VA-accredited attorney. She is admitted to practice before several federal courts, including the Federal Circuit, Court of Federal Claims and the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims.
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