Thursday, July 31, 2008

Paralyzed Veterans of America - Legal Issues

Paralyzed Veterans of America, which has substantial experience helping veterans secure their legal rights, makes some of the fruit of that experience available free on the web.

From the PVA Legal Issues page:

Paralyzed Veterans of America's (Paralyzed Veterans) attorneys have litigated hundreds of cases on behalf of members and other veterans, helping them receive the benefits they have earned. When veterans are denied benefits by Board of Veterans’ Appeals, they have a right to appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims and then to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. Our professional staff represents claimants in these courts and tracks legal issues that matter to veterans.

Paralyzed Veterans’ attorneys recently secured settlement agreements in the following cases:

The first settlement was in Palaske v. Mansfield. Mr. Palaske is a World War II hero who flew more than 50 combat missions. Michael Horan, Paralyzed Veterans Deputy General Counsel, convinced VA that there was an error in a 1946 decision, and VA agreed to award more than 50 years of retroactive compensation.

The second settlement was in Bernstein v. Mansfield. Mrs. Bernstein is the wife of World War II veteran Frank Bernstein, who died in 1980 from complications from his service-connected diseases. Paralyzed Veterans Assistant General Counsel Jennifer Zajac demonstrated that VA should have granted Mrs. Bernstein surviving spouse benefits at an earlier date, which will result in approximately 13 years of retroactive Disability and Indemnity Compensation benefits to Mrs. Bernstein.

From the PVA Legal Issues page includes a host of resources, as links to it amicus curiae briefs, hot topics, and issues to watch. Its site also includes coverage of many other issues important to veterans, such as Accessible Design, Spinal Cord Research and Sports. There's even a facility for sending e-cards! Check it out - You'll be glad you did:

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Agent Orange Equity Act of 2008

Bob Filner, Chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, announced the introduction of the Agent Orange Equity Act (HR 6562) with the stated goal to "restore{} equity to all Vietnam veterans that were exposed to Agent Orange". According to the Press Release:
The Agent Orange Equity Act of 2008 would clarify the laws related to VA benefits provided to Vietnam War veterans suffering from the ravages of Agent Orange exposure. In order to try to gain a better military vantage point, Agent Orange, which we now know is a highly toxic cocktail of herbicide agents, was widely sprayed for defoliation and crop destruction purposes all over the Vietnam War Battlefield, as well as nearby nations. It was also stored on U.S. vessels and used for vegetation clearing purposes around U.S. bases, landing zones and lines of communication.
Currently, VA requires Vietnam veterans to prove "foot on land" in order to qualify for the presumptions of service-connection for herbicide-exposure related illnesses afforded under current law. This issue has been the subject of much litigation and on May 8, 2008, the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals upheld VA’s overly narrow interpretation. Congress clearly did not intend to exclude these veterans from compensation based on arbitrary geographic line drawing by VA.
The Agent Orange Equity Act of 2008 is intended to clarify the law so that every service member awarded the Vietnam Service medal, or who otherwise deployed to land, sea or air, in the Republic of Vietnam is fully covered by the comprehensive Agent Orange laws Congress passed in 1991. If enacted, this bill will make it easier for VA to process Vietnam War veterans’ claims for service-connected conditions that scientists have conclusively linked to toxic exposures during the Vietnam War and that are identified in current law. With this legislation, Congress will leave no doubt that the "Blue Water Navy" and all combat veterans of Vietnam are intended to be covered and compensated; thus ensuring that these veterans will receive the disability benefits they earned and deserve for exposure to Agent Orange.

Naturally, this has excited much discussion.
VNvets blogspot notes:
"The concept that Agent Orange, and its effects, stopped dead in its tracks at the shoreline is simply too illogical, and too ludicrous to accept. (MORE)

But VA Watchdog calls the act "Woefully Inadequate" because, as currently written, the act:
"...doesn't include those veterans exposed in nearby countries such as Laos, Cambodia and Thailand. He also forgets about other areas through which large quantities of Agent Orange were shipped (and used) such as Guam." (MORE)

Read for yourself, and follow the bill, here:


Spread the news via digg


Update June 27, 2009: the legislation has been reintroduced as Agent Orange Equity Act of 2009 (HR 2254, 111th Congress)
  • Call your Congresscritter (the local office is probably best since the DC office gets swamped) and ask whether they have sponsored this bill and if not, why not
  • Join the HR2254 Facebook Cause to stay current with the issue and tell others what you learned from contacting Congress. Technology makes it easier to get our representatives moving!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

VCS and VUTS File Appeal

From Veterans for Common Sense:

Monday Jul 28, 2008 - As promised, the advocacy group Veterans for Common Sense has filed an appeal in a case in which it accuses the Veterans Affairs Department of putting veterans at risk for suicide and mental health issues through shortfalls in care.

In June, Judge Samuel Conti of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in California ruled that the case was out of his jurisdiction because Veterans for Common Sense could not prove that the problems cited — delays in benefits, lost records, long waits for doctors’ appointments, not enough oversight and veterans turned away from hospitals with suicidal thoughts — applied to every veteran, and were therefore not systemic.

However, Conti said in his ruling that those problems need to be tended to, and that individual veterans could sue VA. He said the power to change the system ultimately rests with Congress and VA.

But Veterans for Common Sense, in conjunction with Veterans United for Truth, appealed because they believe the courts do have jurisdiction and can force change. They have requested an expedited hearing, citing new statistics that show a veterans’ suicide hotline receives 250 calls a day from people in distress.

The case brought to light several problems within the system, including an e-mail from a woman who oversees mental health workers at a Temple, Texas, VA facility in which she said her center did not have the resources necessary to diagnose veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder and advised them instead to diagnose “adjustment disorder” — a short-term diagnosis no longer applicable to veterans who have had symptoms for more than six months.

The case also disclosed an e-mail that showed more than 1,000 veterans in VA’s care attempt suicide every month.

“For these reasons, plaintiffs believe they should continue to fight, that their cause is valid, and that Judge Conti was incorrect in holding that the courts are without power to grant veterans a remedy,” attorneys for Veterans for Common Sense said in a statement.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

VA Announces On-Line Claims Applications - VONAPP

According to a VA press release:

WASHINGTON (July 16, 2008) - The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced today that on-line applications are now accepted from veterans, survivors and other claimants filing initial applications for disability compensation, pension, education, and vocational rehabilitation and employment benefits without the additional requirement to submit a signed paper copy of the application.

Effective immediately, VA will now process applications received through its on-line application website (VONAPP) without the claimant's signature. The electronic application will be sufficient authentication of the claimant's application for benefits. Normal development procedures and rules of evidence will still apply to all VONAPP applications.

VONAPP ( is a Web-based system that benefits both internal and external users. Veterans, survivors and other claimants seeking compensation, pension, education, or vocational rehabilitation benefits can apply electronically without the constraints of location, postage cost, and time delays in mail delivery.

VONAPP reduces the number of incomplete applications received by VA, decreasing the need for additional development by VA claims processors. The on-line application also provides a link to apply for VA health care benefits and much more.

Over 3.7 million veterans and beneficiaries receive compensation and pension benefits from VA and approximately 523,000 students receive education benefits. Approximately 90,000 disabled veterans participate in VA's Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment program.

For more information about VA benefits, go to VA's website at or call our toll-free number at 1-800-827-1000.

Strangely, that press release does not list the VONAPP URL:

Monday, July 21, 2008

New GI Bill Info from Armytimes.

Just more than a year from now, on Aug. 1, 2009, veterans' education benefits will undergo a life-changing transformation that will make a four-year college degree suddenly affordable for a new generation of wartime veterans.

Rick Maze of just wrote about when benefits start, who will qualify and how much you may get:

digg story

Thursday, July 17, 2008

SCRA (Servicemembers Civil Relief Act) Videos

SCRA offers protections to servicemembers and their families. In this era of YouTube, lawyers, servicemembers, their families and those creditors who are affected may avoid problems by learning the basics.

In that spirit are offered these simple videos, recorded during the "No Family Left Behind" CLE, July 9, 2008, by Attorneys Assisting Citizen-Soldiers and Families. More information is here: Your comments and suggestions are welcome; our only intent is to avoid or solve problems for our servicemembers and their families.

Introduction to SCRA

Procedural Protections Under SCRA

Financial Protections under SCRA

Voting, Tax and Other Matters under SCRA

Questions on SCRA

Play All Five Videos In Order

More Information

Leave No

Family Behind!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Could I Handle the Truth? My First Job as a Lawyer in the Marine Corps

Michael J. Bond, writing in June 2008 Washington State Bar News:

"In a gentler era, we were known as "attorneys and counselors." But when I graduated from law school at Gonzaga University in 1978, I don't recall having spent any class time learning about the counseling part of the profession. I quickly learned all about it, though, in my first job as a lawyer: as a judge advocate with the United States Marine Corps.

My first clients were young, scared recruits with second thoughts about their enlistment. In working with them, I discovered that while winning a big case is great fun, helping people navigate life's troubles can be even more rewarding. I later moved to the prosecution side and learned another important lesson.

I once found myself embroiled in an ethically challenging case, eerily similar to the one portrayed in the Jack Nicholson/Tom Cruise movie A Few Good Men. From that experience I learned that the appearance of justice is as important as justice itself. Let me explain...."

Continued in Washington State Bar News
digg story

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

National Veterans Legal Services Program (NVLSP)

From: Lawyers Serving Warriors
Lawyers Serving Warriors: A project of the National Veterans Legal Services Program (NVLSP) providing free legal representation in disability, discharge and veterans benefits cases to service members and veterans who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) or Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF).

While combat operations continue in Iraq and Afghanistan, countless American troops and veterans are returning to a crisis at home: U.S. military personnel home from the warzone find themselves left to fight, often without legal representation, for the benefits they have so honorably earned while defending our nation. Lawyers Serving Warriors provides free legal representation, through a network of law firms and corporate law departments, for troops and veterans navigating government agencies in an effort to receive disability benefits, proper military discharges and other benefits due them.

What We Do

Through a network of volunteer attorneys, Lawyers Serving Warriors provides free legal services to U.S. Military personnel and veterans who have served in OIF or OEF in the following situations:

Referred to the physical disability evaluation system. The physical disability evaluation system determines a service member’s eligibility for a disability severance or retirement. Assistance of an attorney in the process can be critical to ensuring the right determination and benefits. Service members who have been referred to the physical disability evaluation system can receive free legal representation through Lawyers Serving Warriors, including assistance with Medical Evaluation Boards (MEBs) and Physical Evaluation Boards (PEBs).

Facing an involuntary administrative separation. The type of discharge and discharge characterization a service member receives has a dramatic impact on benefits. Some service members with disabilities, such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), have been inappropriately recommended for involuntary separation. Lawyers Serving Warriors will provide service members who are being inappropriately involuntarily separated because of a disability with free legal representation.

Received an inappropriate discharge or discharge characterization. A less than Honorable discharge characterization or an inappropriate discharge can result in a veteran receiving no benefits or fewer benefits than he or she deserves. Veterans with disabilities, such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), who received an inappropriate discharge or discharge characterization, can receive free legal representation through Lawyers Serving Warriors.

Filed a claim with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for disability compensation. Veterans who have claims for VA disability compensation can receive free legal representation in preparing the claim and appealing an inappropriate denial of benefits from Lawyers Serving Warriors.

Claim under the Traumatic Injury Insurance Under the Servicemembers Group Life Insurance (TSGLI). TSGLI provides a onetime lump sum payment to qualified U.S. military personnel who have suffered a traumatic injury caused by a traumatic event. Lawyers Serving Warriors will provide representation to qualified military personnel who have been denied or have difficulties with a claim under TSGLI.

Who We Are

Lawyers Serving Warriors has recruited hundreds of lawyers from law firms and corporate law departments throughout the country. In addition to their legal expertise, our attorneys have also been provided training on laws governing the military and veterans’ disability benefits programs so they are prepared and qualified to handle such cases. Lawyers Serving Warriors also provides each volunteer lawyer with a mentor experienced in military and veterans law, further ensuring that every service member and veteran receives top notch legal representation.

Lawyers Serving Warriors is a project of the National Veterans Legal Services Program (NVLSP) an independent, nonprofit veterans service organization dedicated to ensuring that the U.S. government honors its commitment to our active duty personnel and veterans by providing them the federal benefits they have earned though their service to our country. The project is operated in cooperation with the Pro Bono Institute, and veterans service organizations including The American Legion and the Military Order of the Purple Heart.

Contact Us
To get help from the Lawyers Serving Warriors project at the National Veterans Legal Services Program, OEF/OIF veterans should call 202.265.8305 and go to ext. 152.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

JAG Access to State Court Update: ELAP Rule Advocated

ABA's Standing Committee on Legal Assistance to Military Personnel (LAMP) is pressing an effort to open state courts to JAGs in support of military personnel who otherwise have no representation:
"... We are writing on an issue vital to assuring adequate legal representation of our American military members in the courts of your state.

We request your support for an effective state Expanded Legal Assistance Program (ELAP) rule enabling military lawyers to appear in state courts to represent their servicemember clients in civil-law matters.

The availability of Judge Advocate representation in state courts is important because servicemembers too often cannot afford civilian lawyers, and the legal matters at issue are often too small to interest members of the civilian bar. For American servicemembers, even relatively small legal burdens can create enormous distractions when add to the special burdens faced by military families. That is particularly true in these times of international conflict and great servicemember sacrifice.

ELAP rules support military legal assistance in two ways: (i) by allowing Judge Advocates into state courts; and (ii) by enabling locally-based Judge Advocates to creibly inform businesses that engage in abusive practices targeting servicemembers that they will be taken to court if such practices persist.

Military legal assistance offices report that when servicemembers are targets of unfair practices, the mere availability of in-court representation by military lawyers can lead to a negotiate resolution of controversies.

...Despite that need and ready tools to address it, too few states have stepped forward to adopt effective ELAP rules ... some states with large military presences lack any rule that would open the doors of their state courts to military lawyerswho are not licensed in the state. Others have adopted regulations that nominally admit JAG lawyers to state courts, but impose training and dues requirements that stand as practical barriers to admission to the courts. Military attorneys generally are not stations in a state long enough to make satisfaction of such requirements practical or affordable..."



  • Contact the head of your state bar association and request an update of your state's rules in this regard.
  • Check periodicall for signs of progress and to remain informed.