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..."


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