By:  Marien Levy

On March 27, 2013, the Clinic conducted an outreach program for veterans at the New Covenant Church in Hampton, VA. Managing Attorney Stacey-Rae Simcox, HMVHE Director John Paul Cimino, and Clinic Fellow Jon Krug were present, along with ten of the Clinic’s law and policy students. We were joined by a group of almost two dozen people, including veterans and their family members.

 

Professor Simcox introduced the Clinic’s work and four students gave a presentation explaining key aspects of veterans’ benefits law. We explained that in order to qualify for VA benefits, a veteran must have been in active service and been discharged under conditions “other than dishonorable” and must not be barred from receiving benefits for other reasons.

 

The presentation explained the three things a veteran must prove in order to get disability compensation. These are 1) a current disability, 2) an in-service event, and 3) a nexus between the disability and the event. Several veterans in the audience had questions about how to show these elements when they filed a claim, and how the VA would assess their claims if these elements were not immediately clear. We discussed the presumptions that the VA has created to help veterans show that their conditions were caused by Agent Orange, Gulf War Syndrome, or exposure to radiation. We also explained that the VA should notify the veteran if his or her claim is missing any information that is needed to complete the application or to substantiate the claim, should get the veteran a medical examination to assess the disability, and should give claims a sympathetic reading.

 

After the presentation, members of the Clinic met with veterans who had questions about claims that they had filed and about financial hardship waivers. Many veterans had filed claims on their own or with the assistance of veterans service organizations. We heard overwhelmingly that veterans felt that they had been waiting too long to receive decisions from the VA. We were impressed to find that veterans who had been waiting a long time were contacting their Congressmen for assistance and seeking access to their VA files through FOIA requests.

 

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