Veterans’ Advocate Insider – April 2013 Edition



President's Message: Thanks to All for Outstanding Work

On behalf of the NOVA Board of Directors, I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone for their extraordinary efforts in making this year’s 20th Anniversary Celebration a huge success.  As you know, we just held our Spring Conference, including the New Practitioner Session and two-day General Session, this past weekend in Washington, D.C.  Coupled with the conference, we also hosted a gala on Saturday evening, which included an award ceremony, fine dining, and keynote speaker, Joseph Galloway.  We were delighted to have so many members, notable presenters, invited guests, and friends of NOVA attend these events.

A lot of effort goes into planning these events and actually carrying them through to fruition.  We owe a big thank you to the Seminar Committee, the presenters, and the full-time staff for all of their hard work.  In addition to enormous educational value, the weekend events also presented excellent opportunities for participants to connect with other practitioners, which can be so helpful in your practice.  Plans are well underway for the Fall Seminar in San Diego on September 26-28, so please save the date and watch for more information.

Without doubt, the major highlight of the weekend was the gala held to celebrate our 20 years as an organization.  I have received many wonderful comments on this event, which would not have occurred without the hard work of Glenda Herl, our full-time staff, and many other volunteers.  We owe them a special gratitude.  Many of the founding members were present and a number of individuals received awards and other recognition, something long overdue in several instances.  Articles in this issue will cover the award ceremony in greater detail.  However, I am compelled to say how great it was for me to see Richard Cohen, a longtime member, past president and past executive director, be honored with the Kenneth Carpenter Advocacy Award.  Those of you in attendance will certainly agree it was a Kodak moment to have Rich on the stage in formal attire complete with a top hat!

Many of us also attended the CAVC Judicial Conference in the days preceding our seminar.  This, too, was a well planned and executed event with a number of interesting presentations, including a visit from Justice Anthony Scalia.  As importantly, this conference provides an opportunity for the members of the Court’s bar to informally meet and get acquainted, something that is not otherwise accomplished given our geographical separation.  In addition, we got to meet the three newest judges and gain some insight into their backgrounds.

In closing, kudos to every individual who played a role in the success of our Spring Conference and Gala – there are so many who contributed so much!  I hope the recaps that follow will give you a sense of the great pride I take in being president of our organization.  The remarkable dedication, service, leadership, and caring demonstrated by NOVA members and fellow advocates in the veterans’ community is commendable and second to none.

So thanks again for your membership in NOVA, for all you do to help our nation’s veterans and their families, and for your participation in our 2013 Spring Conference.  For those who could not join us in Washington, D.C., we look forward to seeing you in San Diego this coming fall.

2013 Spring Conference Draws Record Attendance to DC Area

NOVA’s 20th Anniversary Celebration took place over the weekend at the Hyatt Regency Crystal City in Arlington, VA with a record number of members and guests in attendance.  The Spring Conference kicked off with the New Practitioner Session on April 19.  This session drew more than 120 attendees, who gathered to hear about the fundamentals of Veterans Law from experts in the field.

Attendees of the New Practitioner Session were welcomed by Kenneth Carpenter, followed by these presentations:  Overview of VA Benefits Structure (Shelly Cutts, Esq.), Establishing Entitlement to Service Connected Compensation (Chris Attig, Esq.), Downstream Issues (Todd Wesche, Esq.), Intro to CAVC (James Ridgway), Selecting Cases (Kenneth M. Carpenter, Esq.), and a Questions and Answers Session by all presenters.

The General Session held on April 20 – 21 drew about 240 participants.  NOVA President Mike Viterna welcomed attendees on Day 1, followed by presentations on How to Use Recent Court Decisions (Ken Carpenter, Esq.), Update from the VA (Thomas J. Murphy, Director, Compensation Service, Dept. of Veterans Affairs), Welcome from the CAVC (Judge Schoelen), Evidence for a Remand (Joe Moore, Esq.), Breakout Session:  Pension (Drew Early, Esq.),  Proactive Court Practice (Zachary Stolz, Esq.), Breakout Session:  Combat Related Special Compensation (Edward Farmer, Esq.), Firm Structure (Ken LaVan, Esq.), and Breakout Session:  Ortho Issues (Dr. Donald Miller, Esq.).

Day 2 of the General Session featured an equally ambitious schedule.  The presentations focused on Individual Unemployability Under 4.16B (Robert Chisholm, Esq.), Ethics (Professor Michael Allen), Breakout Session:  Agent Exam (Leo D. Dougherty, accredited agent), 30 Tips on VA Practice in 60 Minutes (Wade Bosley, Esq.), BVA Panel on Status (Matthew D. Hill, moderator; Lee Becker, Nathan Kroes, Brianne Ogilvie, panelists), Breakout Session:  Offset of VA Benefits (Michael Eisenberg), Johnson Case (Ken Carpenter, Esq.), and Closing Remarks by Mike Viterna.

NOVA wants to thank all of these presenters for making the 2013 Spring Conference a great success!

Gala Celebration Marks NOVA 20th Anniversary, Achievements

As part of its 2013 Spring Conference, NOVA celebrated its 20th anniversary with an elegant gala celebration on Saturday evening, April 20 at the Hyatt Regency Crystal City.  Our guests enjoyed a truly special night together featuring a cocktail hour with live music, fine food, and an evening program hosted by Professor Michael Allen, who did a superb job as master of ceremonies.

The award ceremony held during the gala was a highlight of the evening for everyone in attendance.  NOVA was fortunate to have founding members Ken Carpenter, Hugh Cox, Rosemary Miklos, Francis (Skip) Smith, and Keith Snyder in attendance.  Hugh, Keith, and Ken shared their reflections on NOVA’s beginnings.  Then, these five founding members took the stage at once to receive special recognition.  Likewise, NOVA paid tribute to its past presidents -- Keith Snyder, Robert Chisholm, Theodore Jarvi, Richard Cohen, Wade Bosley, and Katrina Eagle.

NOVA also recognized all those members who have reached their 10, 15, and 20-year milestones, many of whom attended the gala.  In addition, NOVA established The Hall of Honor to commemorate those members who have demonstrated a lifetime of dedication, service, and leadership on behalf of veterans and NOVA.  During the gala, William G. Smith, Keith D. Snyder, and Kenneth M. Carpenter were inducted into The Hall of Honor to acknowledge their immense contributions to the field of Veterans Law, and their exceptional advocacy on behalf of veterans and their families.

Richard Cohen received the Kenneth M. Carpenter Achievement Award for Excellence; Wade Bosley, the CVA-NOVA Pro Bono Advocate of the Year Award; and Roman Martinez, the Veterans Community Service Award.  For those who were unable to attend the gala, the background on these special awards and their recipients are presented below.

Following the award ceremony, President Mike Viterna addressed the audience to talk about NOVA’s current perspective and focus for the future.  He emphasized that as NOVA looks forward, its stature as the premier source for veterans’ law training will remain front and center.  To this end, President Viterna announced that NOVA is pursuing accreditation by the American Bar Association.  Such accreditation would establish a set of high standards in terms of specialized knowledge, experience, and practice focus for those practitioners seeking advanced training and certification in veterans’ law.

Lastly, Joseph L. Galloway, retired military correspondent and keynote speaker, described how his experiences as a military correspondent in combat situations around the globe have shaped his views of our government’s role in caring for veterans returning home from service.  His heartfelt comments on the struggles and challenges faced by generations of veterans seeking healthcare, employment, housing, and overall support after numerous wars and successive tours of duty prompted spontaneous applause on several occasions.  His very personal address will be remembered by all for a very long time.

In closing, on behalf of the Board of Directors, we would like to especially thank Glenda Herl for the incredible job she did planning the gala and making it a success.  In recognition of her efforts, Mike Viterna presented Glenda with a unique President’s Award in gratitude for not only her contribution to this event, but also for everything she has done for NOVA over the past 20 years!

Three Special Awards, Three Exceptional Individuals

NOVA has three special awards to recognize the outstanding achievements of individuals who serve our veteran’s community.  These are the Kenneth Carpenter Advocacy Award, the CVA-NOVA Pro Bono Advocate of the Year Award, and the newVeterans Community Service Award.  Since excellence bears repeating, we would like to recap these awards and acknowledge the recipients, here:

Richard Cohen, Kenneth M. Carpenter Achievement Awardfor Excellence

“From 2007 to 2010 alone, NOVA would testify before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee on seven occasions and before the House Veterans Affairs Committee on 17 occasions.”

– Richard Cohen, Past NOVA President/Executive Director

In 2000, the NOVA Board of Directors created this advocacy award to honor founding member Kenneth Carpenter and his immense contributions to NOVA and the field of Veterans Law.  Ken was presented with the award during a special ceremony at the 2002 Spring Seminar in San Diego.  Beginning in 2008, the NOVA Board has awarded the Kenneth M. Carpenter Achievement Award for Excellence at each Spring Seminar, to a member who has made a significant contribution to NOVA or to the practice of Veterans Law.

Rich Cohen served as NOVA’s first paid executive director, leading the way in Washington, D.C. from 2008 to 2011.  His subject matter expertise and strong leadership during that time put NOVA on the radar of both VA and Congress.  During his term, Rich tirelessly promoted NOVA’s agenda through regular visits to Capitol Hill, personal meetings with key players, and witness testimony that gained the respect of lawmakers.

During this time, NOVA underwent a metamorphosis in terms of visibility on the Hill.  This group of dedicated members who shared a passion for veterans’ law was finally getting the attention it deserved as a truly viable organization.  On the national stage, NOVA began to have a much greater influence on Capitol Hill.  Lawmakers and agency officials charged with veterans affairs began to call on NOVA for its position, and invitations to provide witness testimony grew with Cohen at the helm.

Wade Bosley, CVA-NOVA Pro Bono Advocate of the Year

“My experience has always been that veterans are interested in someone who cares about them as people, when it comes to legal aid.  They also want to receive recognition from the government for their personal sacrifices on behalf of our country.”

– Wade Bosley, Past NOVA President

The CVA-NOVA Pro Bono Advocate of the Year Award is presented annually to a NOVA member in recognition of his or her participation in the CVA-NOVA Pro Bono Advocates Program and, who through their contributions to the Program, exemplifies the pro bono spirit of providing legal services to those individuals who are unable to afford them.

Wade Bosley eagerly joined the pro bono program in 2010 and exhibited a spirit of unparalleled enthusiasm, grit, and a genuine advocacy, indicative of a NOVA member. Not only did Wade participate individually in the Program, but he encouraged members of his entire firm, Bosley and Bratch, to participate, resulting in the payment of tens of thousands of dollars to homeless veterans, which afforded Veterans the opportunity to access to permanent housing.

Last year, Bosley and Bratch represented 12 people who died waiting for their benefits, a reality that occurs far too often.  Wade maintains that attorneys who represent veterans are really counselors in every sense of the word.  “Deny, deny, until I die” is a sad motto, indeed.

Roman Martinez, Veterans Community Service Award

“The Court’s favorable decision is a big win for veterans.  It’s a testament to the principle that our government must keep faith with the brave men and women who have served their country in uniform.”

– Roman Martinez, Latham & Watkins LLP

The NOVA Board of Directors created this new award to acknowledge pro bono work performed by a non-member attorney or advocate on behalf of veterans.  In doing so, the Board wanted to acknowledge the significant accomplishments of those who serve as record of counsel in cases of vital importance to the rights of veterans.  Often times, these pro bono cases span many years and necessitate vast resources before decisions are rendered by the court.

Roman Martinez of Latham & Watkins LLP exemplifies the high standards of pro bono conduct recognized by his receipt of the Veterans Community Service Award.  Roman served as NOVA’s Counsel of Record in the case against VA involving the denial of due process rights for veterans before the BVA.  Over the course of more than a year, Roman advocated on behalf of NOVA to protect these critical due process rights and ensure that all veterans have the opportunity for a meaningful appeal.  The Court’s recent decision in favor of NOVA ensures that VA will take the necessary steps to remedy any harm suffered veterans whose rights were denied by the agency’s unlawful conduct.

Chief Justice Roberts Commends Roman Martinez for Pro Bono Work

Not only was Roman Martinez presented with the Veterans Community Service Award by NOVA Vice President Mike Leonard during the gala award ceremony, he was also surprised to hear NOVA President Mike Viterna read aloud a letter of commendation written to him by Chief Justice Roberts, expressly for the occasion.  Roman had served as a clerk for Chief Justice Roberts in the Court’s 2009 term.

 

For those who were unable to attend the gala, we would like to share that letter here to convey the truly exceptional service that Roman has demonstrated on behalf of our nation’s veterans:

____________________________________________________________________________________

 

Supreme Court of the United States

Washington, D.C.  20543

 

CHAMBERS OF

THE CHIEF JUSTICE

 

April 20, 2013

 

At the close of the Civil War, Union troops marched in grand procession down Pennsylvania Avenue, greeted by a banner proclaiming, “The Only National Debt We Can Never Repay Is The Debt We Owe To Our Soldiers.”  Throughout history, soldiers have served the Nation with determination, honor, and courage in defending our sacred freedoms.  Veterans deserve gratitude.  But they also deserve skilled assistance in receiving the benefits that are their due.

 

The National Organization of Veteran’s Advocates appreciates the essential role of lawyers in securing veterans’ benefits.  I am delighted that this organization is recognizing the pro bono contributions of Roman Martinez in providing legal representation for veterans.  I know that Roman is a lawyer of exceptional skill who understands the unique responsibilities, challenges, and sacrifices of those in our armed forces.

 

Roman’s work on behalf of American veterans is admirable and in the best tradition of the bar’s commitment to pro bono service.  I join in congratulating him, and I commend him for his commitment to a noble cause.

 

Sincerely,

John G. Roberts, Jr.

 

 

Fridays at the Pentagon—Remembering Our True Heroes

In 2007, Joseph L. Galloway, a syndicated military correspondent for McClatchy Newspapers, wanted to run something special for that year’s Memorial Day column.  He appealed to a friend, Lt. Col. Robert Bateman of the U.S. Army, for permission to publish his essay about a regular Friday ceremony held at the Pentagon at which wounded service personnel are brought in from D.C. area hospitals and feted with a luncheon.  The original article was syndicated by McClatchy on May 23, 2007 and was republished (under the title of “Fridays in the Pentagon”) in the Washington Post on September 19, 2008.

 

At its 20th Anniversary Gala on April 20, NOVA was honored to have as keynote speaker, the same Joe Galloway, who reminded us all of the definition of a true hero.  We felt it was only fitting to present that original article, once again:

 

Fridays at the Pentagon

 

By Joseph L. Galloway
McClatchy Newspapers

Over the last 12 months, 1,042 soldiers, Marines, sailors and Air Force personnel have given their lives in the terrible duty that is war. Thousands more have come home on stretchers, horribly wounded and facing months or years in military hospitals.

This week, I'm turning my space over to a good friend and former roommate, Army Lt. Col. Robert Bateman, who recently completed a yearlong tour of duty in Iraq and is now back at the Pentagon.

Here's Lt. Col. Bateman's account of a little-known ceremony that fills the halls of the Army corridor of the Pentagon with cheers, applause and many tears every Friday morning. It first appeared on May 17 on the Weblog of media critic and pundit Eric Alterman at the Media Matters for America Website.

 

It is 110 yards from the "E" ring to the "A" ring of the Pentagon. This section of the Pentagon is newly renovated; the floors shine, the hallway is broad, and the lighting is bright. At this instant the entire length of the corridor is packed with officers, a few sergeants and some civilians, all crammed tightly three and four deep against the walls. There are thousands here.

This hallway, more than any other, is the ‘Army’ hallway. The G3 offices line one side, G2 the other, G8 is around the corner. All Army. Moderate conversations flow in a low buzz. Friends who may not have seen each other for a few weeks, or a few years, spot each other, cross the way and renew.

Everyone shifts to ensure an open path remains down the center. The air conditioning system was not designed for this press of bodies in this area.

The temperature is rising already. Nobody cares.

10:36 hours: The clapping starts at the E-Ring. That is the outermost of the five rings of the Pentagon and it is closest to the entrance to the building. This clapping is low, sustained, hearty. It is applause with a deep emotion behind it as it moves forward in a wave down the length of the hallway.

A steady rolling wave of sound it is, moving at the pace of the soldier in the wheelchair who marks the forward edge with his presence. He is the first. He is missing the greater part of one leg, and some of his wounds are still suppurating. By his age I expect that he is a private, or perhaps a private first class.

Captains, majors, lieutenant colonels and colonels meet his gaze and nod as they applaud, soldier to soldier. Three years ago when I described one of these events, those lining the hallways were somewhat different. The applause a little wilder, perhaps in private guilt for not having shared in the burden ... yet.

Now almost everyone lining the hallway is, like the man in the wheelchair, also a combat veteran. This steadies the applause, but I think deepens the sentiment. We have all been there now. The soldier's chair is pushed by, I believe, a full colonel.

Behind him, and stretching the length from Rings E to A, come more of his peers, each private, corporal, or sergeant assisted as need be by a field grade officer.
11:00 hours: Twenty-four minutes of steady applause. My hands hurt, and I laugh to myself at how stupid that sounds in my own head. My hands hurt. Please! Shut up and clap. For twenty-four minutes, soldier after soldier has come down this hallway - 20, 25, 30. Fifty-three legs come with them, and perhaps only 52 hands or arms, but down this hall came 30 solid hearts.

They pass down this corridor of officers and applause, and then meet for a private lunch, at which they are the guests of honor, hosted by the generals. Some are wheeled along. Some insist upon getting out of their chairs, to march as best they can with their chin held up, down this hallway, through this most unique audience. Some are catching handshakes and smiling like a politician at a Fourth of July parade. More than a couple of them seem amazed and are smiling shyly.

There are families with them as well: the 18-year-old war-bride pushing her 19-year-old husband's wheelchair and not quite understanding why her husband is so affected by this, the boy she grew up with, now a man, who had never shed a tear is crying; the older immigrant Latino parents who have, perhaps more than their wounded mid-20s son, an appreciation for the emotion given on their son's behalf. No man in that hallway, walking or clapping, is ashamed by the silent tears on more than a few cheeks. An Airborne Ranger wipes his eyes only to better see. A couple of the officers in this crowd have themselves been a part of this parade in the past.

These are our men, broken in body they may be, but they are our brothers, and we welcome them home. This parade has gone on, every single Friday, all year long, for more than four years.

 

Source:  Galloway, Joseph.  “A Must-Read for Memorial Day, 5/23/07”

                McClatchy Newspapers.  23 May 2007.

Congratulations to NOVA Members Reaching 10, 15, & 20-Year Milestones

When NOVA was founded 20 years ago, it was a desire to share experience and knowledge in Veterans Law that brought those first members together.  We are all keenly aware of the challenges faced by generations of veterans today, who went to battle to fight for our country and now struggle to receive the benefits which they have earned and so justly deserve.

When an attorney or practitioner joins NOVA, he or she joins in that battle to win the case for a veteran or his family and improve another life along the way.  In return, the NOVA promise to our members is to provide the best possible training in Veterans Law and thereby, the best possible representation of veterans before the VA and the Court.

Your member support enables NOVA to hold semi-annual conferences across the country, to provide a network of pro bono support for those in need, to represent veterans on Capitol Hill for reform in the laws governing their benefits, and to bring veterans’ advocates  together as a community -- dedicated to fighting for what is right for those who served.

To recognize those NOVA members who have reached major milestones in their membership, NOVA created three distinctive challenge coins:  the Bronze Coin for 10-year members, the Silver Coin for 15-year members, and the Gold Coin for 20-year members.  These custom coins feature the NOVA logo and year of distinction on one side, and the military service emblems of our armed forces on the other.

Award recipients who attended the Spring Conference received their coins along with their registration information.  These members were also recognized at the 20th Anniversary Gala on April 20th.  Those NOVA members who received these unique coins to commemorate their membership milestones are presented below:

10-Year Recognition Award for membership of 10 to 14 years:

 

Margie S. Bailey

Clarke C. Barnes

Mark T. Bean

Glenn R. Bergmann

Leo D. Dougherty

Katrina J. Eagle

Patricia Glazek

Karen T. Grisez

Thomas P. Higgins

Brian D. Hill

Francis M. Jackson

Richard R. James

Gregory D. Keenum

Colin E. Kemmerly

Michael A. Leonard

Rick Little

Jill W. Mitchell

Joseph R. Moore

Landon Overby

Felicia Pasculli

Dennis L. Peterson

Carol Ponton

Carol Wild Scott

Barton F. Stichman

Robert P. Walsh

Winona W. Zimberlin

 

15-Year Recognition Award for membership of 15 to 19 years:

 

Wade R. Bosley

Jeffrey J. Bunten

John Cameron

Robert V. Chisholm

Julie Clifford

Glenda S. Herl

Robert M. Kampfer

Lisa A. Lee

Kathy A. Lieberman

Mark Lippman

Jeany Mark

Polly Murphy

Alan J. Nuta

Marshall O. Potter, Jr.

Brian D. Robertson

Mary Anne Royle

Jeanne A. Steffin

Michael R. Viterna

 

20-Year Recognition Award for membership of 20 years and more:

 

Sandra E. Booth

Kenneth M. Carpenter

Richard P. Cohen

Barbara J. Cook

Hugh D. Cox

Jacques P. DePlois

Lewis C. Fichera

Robert A. Friedman

Elie Halpern

Theodore C. Jarvi

Sean Kendall

Robert A. Laughlin

Michael J. Mooney

Susan Paczak

Keith D. Snyder

Michael T. Sullivan

NOVA Provides Witness Testimony on the Ruth Moore Act of 2013 (H.R. 671)

On April 16, 2013, NOVA provided witness testimony to the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs for its hearing on H.R. 671, cited as The Ruth Moore Act of 2013.  The stated purpose of H.R. 671 is to amend title 38, United States Code, to improve the disability compensation evaluation procedure of the Secretary of Veterans Affairs for veterans with mental health conditions related to military sexual trauma (MST), and for other purposes.  The testimony was submitted by Matt Hill, NOVA treasurer.

 

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) cases have posed significant problems for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) because this disability, by its nature, often has a delayed onset.  Consequently, the precipitating events are often unrecorded in a service member’s medical records or in-service department records.  This is particularly true for incidents of sexual assault while on active duty.  In 2011, the Pentagon estimated that about 19,000 male and female service members were sexually assaulted, yet less than 14 percent of these crimes were reported.

As with any assault case, the victims of in-service personal assaults are afraid to report the crime.  This fear is especially likely when the assailant is a superior:  the person to whom the victim is instructed to report in these situations.  Reporting an assault while on active duty, however, is problematic for many reasons, even when the assailant is not the victim’s superior.  The nature of military service discourages reporting both implicitly as well as explicitly.  Even when the service member does make a report of the assault, these reports are rarely documented or associated with the veteran’s service records.

The number of veterans who have experienced an in-service personal assault is high.  Among the veterans who use VA health care, over 20 percent of female veterans report being sexually assaulted while in service (http://www.ptsd.va.gov/public/pages/how-common-is-ptsd.asp).  Additionally, over 50 percent of female veterans and over 35 percent of male veterans report experiencing sexual harassment in the military.  Id.

From 2008 to 2010, VA approved over 50 percent of PTSD claims related to combat, but approved barely 35 percent of PTSD claims related to in-service personal assault.  Ironically, VA concluded that it had made it too difficult for combat veterans to prove that their PTSD was related to service and, as a result, reduced the burden on them to show that their PTSD should be service connected.  Unfortunately, VA has not attempted to help in-service personal assault victims in a similar manner, even though the approvals for in-service personal assault are significantly lower than those for combat veterans.

The proposed amendment to 38 U.S.C. § 1154 makes the determination of entitlement to service-connected compensation for the resulting disability from the in-service trauma a medical question, not a factual one.  This legislation further makes the public policy determination that victims of sexual assault should be entitled to compensation when a competent mental health professional confirms the existence of a current disability from PTSD.  The legislation also confirms the relationship of that disability to the reported in-service sexual assault.  Importantly, this legislation relieves the victims of sexual assault from being victimized further by an adjudication process which implicitly questions the veracity of the reported in-service assault.

In summary, H.R. 671 would allow as sufficient proof of service-connection a diagnosis of a mental health condition by a mental health professional together with satisfactory lay or other evidence of MST and an opinion by the mental health professional that the covered mental health condition and the MST are indeed related.  By allowing the veteran's lay testimony alone to establish the occurrence of the claimed MST, this Act brings affected veterans one step closer to receiving the benefits they deserve for a covered mental health condition incurred or aggravated by military sexual assault.  By further resolving every reasonable doubt in favor of the veteran, H.R. 671 effectively serves to eliminate additional victimization of those who have already suffered enough.

Editor’s Note:  NOVA first reported on The Ruth Moore Act in the March issue of Advocate Insider.  The Act was introduced by Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) and Congresswoman Chellie Pingree (D-ME) on February 13, 2013.  It is named after Ruth Moore, a victim of military sexual trauma who fought for 23 years to obtain disability benefits, during which time she struggled with depression, suffered from a sexually transmitted disease acquired from her attacker, and eventually became homeless.  In 2009, a VA investigator discovered that her medical records had been tampered with and eventually helped her win a 70 percent disability rating and corresponding benefit.

VA Implements Oldest Claims Initiative to Expedite Compensation, Reduce Backlog

On April 19, 2013, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced that it is implementing an initiative to expedite compensation claims decisions for those veterans who have waited one year or longer.  Effective April 19,VA claims raters will make provisional decisions on the oldest claims in inventory, thereby allowing veterans to begin collecting compensation benefits more quickly, if eligible. Veterans will be able to submit additional evidence for consideration a full year after the provisional rating, before VA issues a final decision.

“Too many Veterans wait too long for a decision, and this has never been acceptable,” said VA Secretary Eric Shinseki. “That is why we are implementing an aggressive plan to eliminate the backlog in 2015.  This initiative is the right thing to do now for Veterans who have waited the longest.”

 

According to the VA’s press release, provisional decisions will be based on all evidence provided to date by the veteran or obtained on their behalf by VA.  If a VA medical examination is needed to decide the claim, it will be ordered and expedited.

“Issuing provisional decisions not only provides Veterans with applicable benefits much more quickly, but also gives them an additional one-year safety net to submit further evidence should it become available. Our door will remain open and if a Veteran has additional evidence, their case will be fast tracked,” said Allison Hickey, Undersecretary for Benefits.

If any increase is determined to be warranted based on the additional evidence received, benefits will be retroactive to the date the claim was initially filed.  The initiative protects the veteran’s right to appeal the decision.  If no further evidence is received within that year, VBA will inform the veteran that their rating is final and provide information on the standard appeals process, which can be found at http://www.bva.va.gov/

 

Throughout this initiative, VA will continue to prioritize claims for homeless veterans and those claiming financial hardship, the terminally ill, former Prisoners of War, Medal of Honor recipients, and veterans filing Fully Developed Claims.  In addition, claims for Wounded Warriors separating from the military for medical reasons will continue to be handled separately and on a priority basis with the Department of Defense through the Integrated Disability Evaluation System (IDES).

 

NOVA has posted an Oldest Claims Fact Sheet from VA on Wikipedia for members to review the details of this new initiative.

Brief Notices

Rick Little Receives SWAN’s Service Provider of the Year Award

Rick Little, NOVA Board member and Director of the Center for Veterans Advancement (CVA), was recently honored by the Service Women’s Action Network (SWAN) with its Service Provider of the Year Award.  Rick serves also serves as the CVA/NOVA Pro Bono Advocates Program.  The presentation took place at SWAN’s conference in Washington, D.C. on April 17, 2013.

SWAN’s mission is “to transform military culture by securing equal opportunity and freedom to serve without discrimination, harassment or assault; and to reform veterans’ services to ensure high quality health care and benefits for women veterans and their families,” as stated on its website.  Its mission is accomplished through policy reform, media advocacy, litigation, and direct services.

To learn more about SWAN, please go to www.servicewomen.org.

Longtime NOSSCR Executive Director to Step Down

Nancy Shor, longtime executive director of the National Organization of Social Security Claimants’ Representatives (NOSSCR), has announced plans to step down from her position, according to NOSSCR President Debra S. Shifrin.  Ms. Shor will continue with NOSSCR during this transition, and stay on in another capacity.  A search is currently underway for her replacement.  Anyone interested in this position should forward a resume by May 5, 2013 to debra@shifrin-newman.com.  On behalf of everyone at NOVA, we wish Ms. Shor all the best in her future endeavors.

Gala Photos Coming Soon to NOVA Website

Keep an eye out on our website for photographs from our 20th Anniversary Gala at the Hyatt Regency Crystal City.  Our photographer did a terrific job capturing highlights of the evening’s program, along with the tremendous number of guests who shared this very special event with us!

Order Your Copy of A History of NOVA, Now

A History of NOVA, which chronicles the organization from 1993 to 2013, is now available to purchase for $10.  The book includes an appendix containing NOVA members’ contributions to the jurisprudence of veterans law.   If you would like a copy, please write a check to the National Organization of Veterans’ Advocates, Inc. and indicate “NOVA History” in the memo section.  Your payment should be sent to Regina Alegre, NOVA, 1939 E. Redmon Drive, Tempe, AZ  85283.

NOVA Advocates Contribute to Daily Beast Article

NOVA consultant Tom Bandzul and member Bob Walsh were quoted extensively in an article appearing in The Daily Beast by Jamie Reno on April 8, 2013.  The article deals with how veterans advocates are reacting to the unprecedented backlog of disability claims at VA, which has grown to nearly 1 million, or more than double what it was when President Obama took office.  To view the article in its entirety, please follow the link: http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2013/04/08/as-va-backlog-grows-baffled-veteran-allies-begin-to-turn-on-president.html

Submissions to Veterans Law Review due by May 1st

The Board of Veterans’ Appeals (BVA) is sponsoring the sixth volume of the Veterans Law Review, a scholarly journal that serves as a forum for the exchange of ideas and information, as well as legal and policy analyses, concerning the growing area of veterans’ benefits law.

The BVA is seeking submissions that focus on the status, trends, and future of veterans’ benefits law.  These writings may be prepared by individual authors or groups of authors.  Submissions must be received by May 1, 2013 to be considered for publication in the sixth volume, which will be released in early 2014.

If you want to submit a piece for consideration or have any questions, contact Editor-in-Chief, Nate Doan at Nathanial.Doan@va.gov or 202-632-4851. For more information, please visit the Veterans Law Review website at http://www.bva.va.gov/VLR.asp. 

Volunteers Needed to Staff NOSSCR Booth, May 15-18

NOVA is seeking volunteers to staff its booth at the National Organization of Social Security Claimants’ Representatives (NOSSCR) Conference on May 15-18 at the JW Marriott in Washington, D.C.  If you are planning to attend the conference and could spare some time on either day, please contact Cathy Cuddy at ccuddy@vetadvocates.org so we can ensure proper coverage.  Or, just stop by Booth #9 if you find yourself available.

For more information, go to www.nosscr.org/members/conferences.

Special Thanks to Our Spring Conference Exhibitors

NOVA thanks the following exhibitors for their support at our Spring Conference:

  • eGeneration Marketing, which focuses on the Social Security Disability, Personal Injury, and Workers’ Compensation practice areas.  Through online lead generation, they help attorneys and disability advocates grow their practices and increase caseload.
  • Get Cloud Services, which specializes in cloud-based hosting services.
  • LeadRival, a lead generation company which helps law firms to grow their practices through online marketing.
  • LexisNexis, which exhibited NVLSP’s publications and products, including the Veterans Benefits Manual, CD, and training DVD, as well as related LexisNexis publications.
  • Prevail Case Management Software, which demonstrated its system to help attorneys streamline day-to-day activities of their law practices for maximum efficiency.
  • Vets for Full Representation, a membership organization that raises awareness of the critical need for veterans to receive expert legal assistance with all of their disability claims.

We hope you were able to stop by their displays and learn more about their products and services.

Plan Early:  Upcoming San Diego/Pittsburgh Conferences

This year, NOVA’s Fall Conference will be held in San Diego on September 26-28, 2013 at the Westin Gas Lamp Quarter.  The 2014 Spring Conference will be held in Pittsburgh at the Omni William Penn Hotel on April 24-26, 2014.

Latest Compensation Service Bulletin Posted on NOVA Wiki

NOVA has posted the VA’s April 2013 issue of the Compensation Service Bulletin on the Bulletin Board and the WIKI.  The April issue contains policy information on service connection for in-service PTSD as related to a pre-service stressor, as well as instructions that clinical examiners must follow to evaluate visual fields.

Procedural information in this issue relates to a Reminder Regarding Fully Developed Claims (FDC) and Requesting Evidence; Manual Rewrite (MR) Changes; Report of Death of a Spouse from a Power of Attorney (POA); New Alternative Visual Field Standard for Special Home Adaptation (SHA) Grants; and Election of Benefits.

Salute to the Daily Show’s Red Tape Diaries

On behalf of our nation’s veterans, NOVA would like to salute Comedy Central’s Daily Show for its expose of the current situation at the Department of Veterans Affairs.  The series, entitled The Red Tape Diaries, takes a satirical look at the challenging issues faced by VA as the agency undergoes modernization of its benefit claims process.  Daily Show host Jon Stewart is commended for bringing the veteran’s plight with VA to the attention of late night TV viewers.  The Red Tape Diaries is yet another reality check of the struggles faced by our nation’s veterans and a not-so subtle reminder for all of us to treat our war heroes with the utmost dignity and respect.

 

 

 

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