Lawyers step to help Vets Gratis

Discussion in 'VMBB General Discussion' started by berto64, Nov 28, 2007.

  1. berto64

    berto64 Active Member

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    > USA Today
    > November 27, 2007
    > Pg. 4
    >
    > Lawyers Step Up To Help Veterans Gratis
    >
    > Volunteers hope expertise will speed disability claims, improve outcome
    >
    > By Laura Parker, USA Today
    >
    > WASHINGTON - The scene resembled Hollywood's version of how a
    > multibillion-dollar legal deal might be negotiated. Big-name corporate
    > law firm. Posh conference room, with a conference table so large 70
    > attorneys fit easily around it. Video technicians, hovering nearby, beam
    > the meeting to other big law firms from Boston to Seattle.
    >
    > Yet there was no deal to cut. Instead, the high-powered lawyers were
    > getting a tutorial in the arcane vagaries of veterans law.
    >
    > "This could be the VA's worst nightmare," Bart Stichman, one of the
    > organizers, enthused from the podium. "Hundreds of attorneys from around
    > the country providing legal service to veterans for free."
    >
    > The recent gathering at Sidley Austin, a firm with 1,700 lawyers around
    > the globe, is part of a growing effort to provide free legal help to
    > thousands of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan who are trying
    > to win disability benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
    >
    > "There are 100,000 veterans seeking benefits, and too many of them are
    > waiting too long to get them," says Ron Abrams, who, with Stichman,
    > directs the National Veterans Legal Services Program, a non-profit group
    > in Washington spearheading the effort. "These lawyers are going to treat
    > these veterans the way they would treat their corporate clients."
    >
    > The approach marks the first time since the Civil War that attorneys
    > have been recruited in large numbers to represent veterans. The lawyers
    > hope their legal expertise will speed consideration of claims and result
    > in better benefits for veterans, Stichman says. More than 50 of the
    > largest law firms in the USA and more than 400 attorneys have signed up.
    > Stichman and Abrams hope to start assigning veterans to the attorneys
    > early next month.
    >
    > Law schools join cause
    >
    > Amanda Smith, an attorney with the Philadelphia-based firm Morgan Lewis,
    > says many of the participating lawyers are Vietnam veterans and "are
    > appalled at the circumstances that they find veterans in today."
    >
    > Besides the push by big law firms, law schools in states such as the
    > Carolinas, Virginia, Delaware, Michigan and Illinois also are offering
    > free services to veterans.
    >
    > Craig Kabatchnick, who worked as a VA appellate attorney from 1990 until
    > 1995, launched a clinic last January for veterans at North Carolina
    > Central University's law school, where he now teaches.
    >
    > "We had all kinds of veterans who were very disabled, litigating against
    > trained attorneys like myself who were defending the VA," Kabatchnick
    > says. The VA would "win" if the claim was denied, Kabatchnick says. "Did
    > we litigate to win? Absolutely. In cases where the veteran was
    > representing himself, the win ratio was very high."
    >
    > Paul Hutter, the VA's general counsel, says its attorneys have "an
    > ethical obligation to fairly and justly" review claims and settle
    > "meritorious cases quickly."
    >
    > "Our job is to ensure that veterans get the benefits allowed them by
    > law," he says in an e-mail.
    >
    > Disability claims have increased from 578,773 in fiscal 2000 to 838,141
    > this year, according to VA figures. There are about 407,000 pending. The
    > average processing time is 177 days, the VA says.
    >
    > Change in law lifted restrictions
    >
    > Traditionally, veterans have represented themselves or sought assistance
    > from a service organization, such as the American Legion or the Veterans
    > of Foreign Wars. But many of the caseworkers in those groups are
    > overloaded with cases, Stichman says, and sometimes one volunteer
    > oversees 1,000 veterans' claims.
    >
    > The approach has not led to quick compensation for veterans. Evidence
    > supporting a veteran's claim - medical records or letters from
    > colleagues - is not always submitted with the original claim. When that
    > evidence is added later, it can lead to reversals or requests for
    > reconsideration. That can add more than a year to the appeals process,
    > the VA says.
    >
    > The Board of Veterans' Appeals either reverses or orders reconsideration
    > of decisions made by VA regional offices 56% of the time, according to
    > an analysis of VA figures by Stichman's group. Congress has long kept
    > attorneys at arm's length from the veterans' disability process. Until
    > last June, when federal law changed, paid attorneys could not work on
    > cases until after a final decision by the Board of Veterans' Appeals.
    > The VA is now considering regulations that would require all attorneys
    > to pass a test in order to qualify to handle veterans' claims, according
    > to Phil Budahn, a department spokesman.
    >
    > Service organizations, including the Disabled American Veterans and
    > Veterans of Foreign Wars, vigorously fought the change in law. They are
    > now pushing to repeal the law and support requiring a test, arguing that
    > lawyers could turn what is supposed to be a non-adversarial process into
    > a litigious one.
    >
    > "The fear was lawyers will dominate, and they'll ruin everything," says
    > Thomas Reed, a law professor at Widener University in Wilmington, Del.,
    > who began offering free legal services to veterans in 1997.
    >
    > Lawyers not the cure-all
    >
    > Joe Violante, national legislative director of the Disabled American
    > Veterans, which represents 1.3 million veterans, says trained volunteers
    > from the service organizations are far more experienced at representing
    > veterans' claims than the newly recruited lawyers.
    >
    > "If the veteran is under the impression that an attorney is going to get
    > their claim through faster, there's no proof of that," he says.
    >
    > Ron Flagg, a Sidley attorney involved in the pro bono veterans' project,
    > says there are so many claims that the system is overwhelmed.
    >
    > "Lawyers are not the cure to all ills," he says. "But this is a problem
    > where lawyers can be helpful."
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