The United States government owes its veterans a debt for their service to the country, said Bart Stichman, special adviser to the nonprofit National Veterans Legal Services Program.
“Unfortunately, the government has not kept that promise since the Vietnam War,” Stichman said.
He was the keynote speaker at Friday’s Symposium on Veterans Issues presented by the University of Missouri Law School Veterans Clinic: “Pushing the Envelope: Firsts in Advocacy for America’s Heroes.”
“The government made the decision not to pay the cost of the war” after Vietnam, Stichman said.
His organization has been able to secure landfills for more than 7,000 Vietnam veterans who have received “less than honorable” discharges.
Those with less than honorable discharges are not eligible for Veterans Affairs benefits, and have a stigma attached to them that impairs employment prospects.
The government lowered its military service requirements to send more bodies to Vietnam and was surprised to find that not all of them were performing well, he said.
“No other employer notes your performance when you leave and says you are undesirable,” Stichman said.
Veterans have been helped by the repeal of two laws, he said. One was a law that prevented them from appealing VA denials in federal courts, which in 1988 resulted in the United States Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims.
The NVLSP has filed more than 5,000 appeals in court, he said.
The other law repealed was an 1862 law that made it a federal crime for lawyers to charge more than $ 10 to represent a veteran in a claim.
“Our biggest victory was probably the Nehmer affair of 1989,” Stichman said.
These were veterans who had negative health effects from exposure to Agent Orange, a chemical defoliant widely used in Vietnam.
“The VA required cause and effect has stacked the game, legally” against veterans in Agent Orange’s claims, he said.
A 1991 consent decree stemming from the case resulted in the payment of more than $ 4.6 billion in retroactive payments to more than 100,000 Vietnam veterans and their survivors.
Congress approved the Agent Orange Act of 1991, he said.
A 1993 lawsuit provided more than $ 60 million in retroactive compensation to more than 600 100% disabled Puerto Rican veterans, he said.
A class action lawsuit filed by his organization resulted in the Sabo v. United States decision in 2011. It increased the disability rate related to post-traumatic stress disorder for more than 2,200 veterans who served in Iraq and the United States. Afghanistan.
“The military was lowering disability ratings so they didn’t have to pay,” Stichman said.
Another speaker was Mel Bostwick, an attorney from Washington DC, who presented the topic “Advocating for Accuracy at the Federal Circuit Level”.
She was involved in a case that successfully extended benefits to 52,000 Navy veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange on ships.
“I continue to hear from veterans who suddenly see their requests granted” because of the decision, said Bostwick.
One slide she presented showed the judges of the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.
“Know your audience,” Bostwick said. “These are the 19 judges of the federal circuit.”
Only three were military veterans and they have a higher status, she said.
“Don’t assume your audience knows about it,” she said.
Very few veterans cases make it to the United States Supreme Court, she said.
“As you can see from this cover page, you must have an absurd number of lawyers on your team” in a Supreme Court case, Bostwick said.
It is also necessary to have lots of “friend of the court” amicus briefs from all the major veterans groups in Supreme Court cases.
“It shows that everyone cares about the problem,” she said.
During a question-and-answer session, a student asked what she liked best about her job.
“My job is to tell my client’s story, to get the court to understand why my client is so right,” Bostwick said. “It’s a lot of fun. You can make a difference.”
The symposium aims to educate Missouri lawyers, law students and veterans advocates about issues, regulations, court decisions and upcoming cases, said Angela Drake, director and supervising lawyer of the Veterans Clinic. fighters.
“We take this opportunity to provide continuing legal education,” said Drake.
Along with the clinic, law students interview clients and research the laws, regulations, and facts to help veterans receive their benefits.