Thursday, August 28, 2008

Casualties of War - from New York Lawyer

An excellent article from New York Lawyer:
"When Sergeant First Class Norris Galatas drove over an improvised explosive device in Iraq in May 2006, it took less than a second for shrapnel to tear all of his organs other than his heart. Only after months of treatment at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., could Galatas eat solid foods again. And it wasn't until two years later that the Army agreed that Galatas's injuries earned him disability benefits.

In that respect, Galatas was lucky. Because he had legal representation throughout his medical evaluation board hearings, the Army changed Galatas's disability ranking from 10 percent, which provides a small loan, to 90 percent, which provides lifetime benefits for him and his wife. "We made enough noise so they focused on it, and the doctors reevaluated the records," says Ehran Halse-Stumberg, a King & Spalding associate who represented Galatas.

Attorneys advising clients in administrative proceedings may sound like nothing new, but in the past, big-firm lawyers rarely provided this sort of representation to disabled veterans. After The Washington Post exposed poor conditions at Walter Reed about a year ago, though, large firms began a concerted effort to provide services to them.

Three advocacy tactics soon emerged. Some firms, such as Morrison & Foerster, sought to challenge systemic problems in how the military and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) treat disabled veterans. Others, such as King & Spalding, focused on helping newly returning service personnel from Iraq and Afghanistan avoid filing errors that can stall applications for years. Still others, such as Covington & Burling, opted to help clear a long backlog of claims by representing veterans from prior wars.

These categories are not rigid. Many firms are engaged in combinations of these activities, or all three. But they all have the same purpose-to mitigate the nation's failure to support its injured service people. The VA's current backlog is estimated to be 1 million claims. Many claimants await their rulings on the streets: Former service members are believed to make up about a third of the nation's homeless, the VA says..."


Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Army Legal Education Program Accepting Applicants

"1. Description of program. The Funded Legal Education Program (FLEP) authorizes the selection of not more than 25 Active Duty Army officers (lieutenants or captains) each year to obtain a legal education at government expense. The JAGC expects to select approximately 25 applicants during the Fall 2008 selection board.

2. Eligibility and Application Procedures. Details regarding eligibility, the application process and service obligation with regards to FLEP are outlined in Army Regulation (AR 27-1), Chapter 14. The eligibility requirements in AR 27-1 are statutory and cannot be waived. The cutoff for eligibility is 6 years of total active federal service, including warrant officer or enlisted service, at the time legal training begins.

3. Selection criteria. When considering an applicant's file, the selection board members use the "total person concept". They evaluate the undergraduate and graduate school transcripts, LSAT score, ORB, OERs, SJA interview letter, and statement of motivation to attend law school ..."

More information, including whom to contact if interested:

And a thanks for the heads-up from and

Monday, August 25, 2008

GI Bill 2008 FAQ & Support website

The "GI Bill 2008" website, originally created in support of passing the updated GI Bill, has (with that bill's passage) updated itself into a source of information about that bill. Its Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page accumulates and summarizes information from a variety of sources: There's also other resources, such as a handy benefits calculator and an ongoing News Page.


Wednesday, August 20, 2008

"Women At War: Forgotten Female Veterans of Desert Storm"

Around 50,000 female American soldiers deployed to the Persian Gulf War. They found there was no rear line in the Gulf to protect them from the combat situations from which the law barred them. For some, the war continues.
"Women At War: Forgotten Female Veterans of Desert Storm" takes an intimate look at women soldiers’ wartime experiences during 1991's Operation Desert Storm and their heart-breaking battles with Gulf War illnesses since they’ve returned home.

In formal interviews and hometown visits, female soldiers chronicle their experiences during Desert Storm and its aftermath. Hi-8 footage from the Gulf War shot by the women themselves and present day cinema verité footage from Washington, DC and VA hospitals in Miami, FL and Macon, GA enhance the film. Two main characters form the heart of the story. Carol Williams, a Caribbean-American, who served as a Navy corpsman, illuminates the film with her soulful eyes, emotional presence and outraged sense of betrayal. With empathy and scientific rigor Denise Nichols, an Air Force Major with a Master’s in nursing, provides the insight needed to understand Gulf War illnesses.

Other female Gulf War veterans tell stories that move us to laughter and tears. In Saudi Arabia, where women aren’t allowed to drive, Venus Hammack steered a Humvee alone through the desert wearing a costume beard. Today, in Seattle, Julie Mock, coping with multiple sclerosis, faces the challenge of caring for two children born with birth defects linked to wartime exposures.

"Women At War: Voices of Female Gulf War Veterans" reveals the emotional toll that sexual assault and rape have had on female soldiers of 1991's Gulf War. These women returned home only to endure homelessness, bankruptcies, denial of benefits and treatment from the VA.

The war tore families apart—heartbroken mothers returned home to find children who did not know them. And as these veterans became ill, their children were often the ones who had to care for them. These women’s experiences mirror those of many service members coming home today from Iraq and Afghanistan. This film is a tool for action to ensure we fulfill the mission set out by Abraham Lincoln: "… to care for him who shall have borne the battle" -- or in this case "her."

More information:

Monday, August 18, 2008

Veterans Health Care Authorization Act of 2008 - S 2969

Rick Maze of Army Times writes:
Opening the nation’s 232 Vet Centers to active-duty and reserve component members who served in Iraq or Afghanistan so they could receive readjustment counseling might duplicate existing military programs, but it would still help combat veterans, according to a new analysis by a nonpartisan arm of Congress.

The Congressional Budget Office, tasked with putting a price tag on pending legislation, looked at counseling services as it estimated the cost of S 2969, the Veterans Health Care Authorization Act of 2008, passed by the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee.

The committee, chaired by Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, passed the health bill in June, but the full Senate has not yet considered it. In preparation for floor debate on veterans’ legislation, the budget office reviewed the bill, including the potential cost of expanding eligibility for Vet Centers to include people still in the military.

By CBO’s estimate, about 1 million people still in the military — active or reserve forces — are or have deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan.

Having all of them show up at Vet Centers would overwhelm a system that now serves about 165,000 people a year, but that is unlikely. CBO estimates that about one-third would seek mental health counseling and that only about 5 percent of those who seek counseling would use Vet Centers rather than the free on- and off-base counseling already provided by the Defense Department.

To come up with a cost, CBO assumed it would take abut $415 a year per person to provide counseling. After adjusting for inflation, this means that Vet Centers would need $24 million a year in extra funding over five years, a relatively small amount considering their current annual operating costs of $131 million."

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom Statistics

From Swords to Plowshares: some helpful numbers:

Selected statistics regarding veterans of the “Global War on Terror” (GWOT)

Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF – the Afghanistan War) and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF – the Iraq War) veterans and their families.

Total service members deployed

(As of May 2008)
Percentage of National Guard and Reserves 28%
Percentage serving 2 or more tours 34%

Deaths and Injuries (as of 05-07-08)

Deaths (Iraq and Afghanistan Wars) 4,550
Total wounded in action 31,948
Medically Evacuated due to Injury or Disease 38,962

Mental Health and PTSD

New England Journal of Medicine Study (Hoge et al 03/06)
Percentage soldiers meeting criteria for PTSD, depression or anxiety
3- 4 Months post deployment - 15-17%
3-12 Months post-deployment - 19-21% (same group)

National Center for PTSD 2005
Received small-arms fire – 94%
Know someone who was seriously injured or killed – 86%
Saw dead or seriously injured Americans – 68%
Handled or uncovered human remains - 51%
Shot at or directed fire at the enemy – 77%
Responsible for the death of an enemy combatant – 48%
Responsible for the death of a noncombatant – 28%

New England Journal of Medicine, July 2004
1. Hoge, CW., et al. “Combat Duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, Mental Health Problems, and Barriers to Care.” The New England Journal of Medicine. Vol. 351, No.1., July 1, 2004.

Veteran’s Health Administration Statistics

(as of May 2008)
OEF/OIF Vets who are eligible for VA healthcare 892,848
Iraq Vets who have sought VA health care 324,846
Percentage of those vets diagnosed with PTSD/mental illness 41.1%
Veterans Benefits Administration Statistics (as of April 16, 2008)
Total GWOT Veterans Filing Disability Claims 287,790
Number of GWOT Veterans Awarded Service-Connected Disability
Disability RatingReserves GuardActive DutyTotal

Unemployment Rate of OIF/OEF Veterans

18% of veterans, recently separated from service, are unemployed, and of those employed 25% earn less that $21,840 a year.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

ABA Military Pro Bono Referral Project

Information for servicemembers and their families seeking pro bono legal help.

"The ABA Military Pro Bono Project (MPBP) will connect eligible, active-duty servicemembers with pro bono attorneys to assist with the resolution of civil legal issues. If you are an active-duty member of the military eligible for services through your military legal assistance office (which may include certain members of the Reserves and National Guard), you may be eligible for a referral for legal help through the Military Pro Bono Project. There are a few criteria you need to know when seeking a referral through the Project:"
For more information, click here.

Information for civilian attorneys interested in volunteering pro bono legal assistance to servicemembers through the Project.

"Extended American military missions overseas have generated unprecedented civil-law challenges for servicemembers, many of whom have left family, home, and job for years at a time to serve their country in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other locations.

Our servicemembers are increasingly saddled with legal needs that distract them from their mission and can make their already difficult daily lives even more challenging. These needs are arising in the areas of consumer law, family law, landlord-tenant, employment law, and other areas. Their families often unfortunately require assistance in the area of probate, trusts and estates, or guardianship law.

The Military Pro Bono Project will directly help servicemembers who are sacrificing greatly for their country by moving pro bono referrals straight from military law offices to willing-and-able private sector lawyer volunteers throughout the country."

To learn more, click here.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Continuation of Medical Health Care Coverage Benefits for Former Military Spouses

ROLL CALL, the Newsletter of the Military Committee of the ABA Family Law Section, has its Summer, 2008 edition online now with a long & useful article entitled"THE CONTINUATION OF HEALTH CARE BENEFITS PROGRAM (CHCBP) AS A LONG-TERM HEALTH CARE OPTION FOR FORMER MILITARY SPOUSES" by Wm. John Camp/
According to the newsletter's editor:
"Georgia attorney John Camp explains the ins and outs of military medical care coverage when a spouse or former spouse is not entitled to 20/20/20 coverage (20 years of marriage, 20 years of service, and an overlap of 20 years). John specializes in military divorce cases, and he spent many hours researching this topic to give us a thorough summary of this little-known aspect of family support in military divorce cases."
It includes a very handy flow chart for navigating 10 US Code 1078a for Spouses & Former Spouses!


Saturday, August 9, 2008

VA Can't Be Stopped from Using Religion, Says 7th Circuit

In Freedom From Religion Foundation v. Nicholson, the 7th Circuit ruled (August 5, 2008) that taxpayers lack standing to sue the Department of Veterans Affairs for incorporating religion into its health care programs.

On April 19, 2006 the Foundation sued in District Court under 42 USC 1983 to end certain VA practices that it claimed violated the separation of church and state:
  • The clinical focus of the Chaplain Service
  • The spiritual assessments that the VA gives to patients
  • The provision of pastoral care to VA outpatients
  • The integration of spirituality/religion into VA treatment programs.

The VA argued that spirituality should be integrated into care, but it is up to patients to decide whether that involves religion. Its "spiritual assessments" ask patients about their faith (such as how often they attend church, or how important the Bible or other scripture is in their lives) to help it figure out what each patient needs.

U.S. District Judge John Shabaz granted summary judgment to the VA, ruling Lemon v. Kurtzman was controlling and that the VA program satisfied the "Lemon" test.

On appeal, the VA lawyers challenged the Foundation's standing to sue, citing the recently decided Hein case, and the three-judge panel agreed.

Thanks for the heads-up from VA Watchdog!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Sexual Assault and the Military: When Will the Pentagon Take Action?

Paul Rieckhoff of Iraq & Afghanistan Veterans of America reports:
Women make up 20% of all new recruits and more than 11% of the forces deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. These women’s honorable service and incredible heroism in combat should be noted, and celebrated. They deserve tremendous credit for their service and sacrifice in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But sadly, I’m here to talk about a different threat facing women in the military - a threat not from insurgents, but from their fellow service members. Women in the military cope with significant and underreported sexual assault and harassment:
“It took Diane Pickel Plappert six months to tell a counselor that she had been raped while on duty in Iraq. While time passed, the former Navy nurse disconnected from her children and her life slowly unraveled.

Carolyn Schapper says she was harassed in Iraq by a fellow Army National Guard soldier to the extent that she began changing clothes in the shower for fear he’d barge into her room unannounced as he already had on several occasions.”

The rates of assault are shocking. Almost one-third of women veterans say they were sexually assaulted while in the military. (In the general population, one out of every six American women has been a victim of a sexual assault.) Already, 15 percent of female Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who have gone to the VA for care have screened positive for Military Sexual Trauma. But even these troubling figures may not be telling the whole story; experts estimate that half of all sexual assaults go unreported.

It’s the Pentagon’s job to ensure our troops are protected, and they are failing miserably here. For anyone who followed the body and Humvee armor scandals of a few years ago, it should be no surprise that the Pentagon has been dragging its heels on responding to this threat. A special DOD “task force” on sexual assault in the military was created almost 4 years ago - but it has yet to convene for a single meeting.

The official response to individual cases of assault is also unsettling. In 2007, only 8 percent of sexual assailants were referred to courts martial, compared with 40 percent of similar offenders prosecuted in the civilian court system. And the latest assessment by the Government Accountability Office on the military’s sexual assault prevention and response programs offers another stinging critique. Among its findings, the GAO concludes that:
  • Mandatory sexual assault prevention and response training is not “consistently effective.”
  • Shortages of mental health care providers limit victims’ access to mental health services.
  • There is no directive from the DOD on how to operate the programs in a deployed environment.
  • The DOD has not developed an oversight framework to evaluate whether the programs are working.

Last Thursday, Congress gave the Defense Department an opportunity to defend its efforts at a House Oversight Committee hearing. Instead of acknowledging the program’s shortcomings, Pentagon officials directed the head of their Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office (SAPRO) not to appear at the hearing. This is scandalous. And demonstrates a blatant disregard by the DOD for the hundreds of thousands of sexual assault victims and their families. Secretary Gates and the President should respond immediately. Thankfully, Congress has the power to subpoena-which means unless the Director of SAPRO appears before the Committee, she risks being held in contempt of Congress, and even the possibility of jail time.

What happened to taking care of our own? Our military brass seems to have forgotten that rule-one that I learned as a private in Basic Training-and a rule that American servicemembers have upheld for generations. It’s a sad day when one of the military’s proudest traditions, the commitment of servicemembers to protect and defend one another, must be enforced by Congressional subpoena. We can and must do better."


See also:

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Servicemembers Civil Relief Act Guide now available free!

A very nice Guide to the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act Guide has been made available by the Judge Advocate's School of the United States Army. One place you can get it is, along with some explanatory videos and a whole lot of other stuff, is "No Family Left Behind" Training Program Agenda.

You can also link directly to the PDF here - it's a couple of megs.

Well done, JAG School!

Monday, August 4, 2008

Servicemember Homeownership Protections in Housing Bill

Several improvements in homeownership protection for servicemembers were included in the Fanne Mae/Freddy Mac Bailout Bill (HR 3221)

As summarized on

H.R. 3221: Foreclosure Prevention Act of 2008

Title II - Mortgage Foreclosure Protections for Servicemembers

Section 201 -
Sets forth a temporary increase, through December 31, 2008, in the maximum loan guaranty amount for certain housing loans guaranteed by the Secretary of Veterans' Affairs.
Section 202 -
Directs the Secretary of Defense to develop and implement a program to advise members of the Armed Forces who are returning from active duty abroad on actions to prevent or forestall mortgage foreclosures, including credit counseling and home mortgage counseling.
Section 203 -
Amends the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act to increase from 90 days to nine months the period of: (1) protection against mortgage foreclosure proceedings; and (2) the stay of proceedings and adjustment of mortgage obligations. Sunsets such provisions December 31, 2010.
Revises the 6% interest rate limitation during the period of military service for debts incurred before military service whose interest rate did not exceed that percentage. Extends the 6% limitation for one year beyond the period of military service if the debt is a mortgage, trust deed, or other security in the nature of a mortgage.

More information:

Thanks to the Iraq And Afghanistan Veterans of America blog for the head's up!

Friday, August 1, 2008

Veterans Voting Support Act (H.R. 6625)

H.R. 6625 would require the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to permit facilities of the Department of Veterans Affairs to be designated as voter registration agencies.

Recently the head of the VA blocked voter registration efforts on VA facilities, thereby hindering the right to vote of veterans hospitalized or permanently retired (see VHA Directive 2008-25) The reasons given for this are pure bluster; contrary to the lie in that publication, non-partisan voter registration drives do not violate the Hatch act. They can be conducted with dignity and in a non-partisan way, but it appears that the rights of those who defended our Constitution on the battlefield must again be defended in Congress because of the unilateral action of a political appointee afraid that his incompetence will result in veterans exercising the franchise in a way he doesn't like.

If this blogger sounds intemperate about this bill, it's because the actions of the political head of the VA are completely outrageous and the excuses given are insulting to the intelligence of every American. It is clear that someone at the VA is worried that people living in VA facilities might not be entirely happy about their treatment, and use the right to vote for which the suffered the injuries now putting them in the VA's power.

This is no time for partisanship; this is time to enforce the rights of veterans; it is time to act:
  • Read the text of HR 6625
  • Understand the Key Points about what the bill does:
      Require the VA to make voter registration services available at VA facilities in states that request it, in accordance with the National Voter Registration Act. These services include providing voter registration forms, answering questions on registration issues and assisting with submitting voter registration forms
    • Require the VA to assist veterans at facilities to receive and use absentee ballots if they choose to vote absentee
    • Allow non-partisan groups and election officials to provide voter information and registration information to veterans
    • Require an annual report to Congress from the Department of Veterans Affairs on progress related to this legislation
  • Call Congress Now! (one phone call is worth many emails)