Veterans’ Advocate Insider – February 2013 Edition



President's Message: Webinar on Writ of Mandamus Paves Way for Focused Training

For those of you who did not participate in our webinar on writs earlier this month, you missed an excellent session on a tool to get the Regional Office (RO) to do its job.  A special thank you is in order for Robert Chisholm who, by all reports and my personal experience, did a great job in outlining strategies to position a case for a writ and then providing examples of how to file these petitions.  Thanks are also in order for Matt Hill for moderating this event.

It is our desire to conduct at least two webinars per year, which is part of NOVA’s long-term strategy to make relevant, high quality training readily available to our members.  This focused training is being conducted by some of the best practitioners in this area of law.  We continue to strive to tailor our training to the practice needs of our members.  In that regard, we are always receptive to subjects for the webinars and the seminars, so please do not hesitate to contact Matt, me, or any member of the Board about your interests.

Recently, NOVA purchased a membership software package that is currently being populated and will be transitioned into use in the near future.  This program will not only assist our staff in keeping our membership information current, but also offer improved service to our members in terms of on-line registration and payment for events, membership renewal, member profile updates, log-in assistance, etc.  This service will be integrated into the NOVA website, which is also undergoing design changes and improvements in functionality.  Stay tuned.

Lastly, plans are in final mode for our 20th Anniversary Gala Celebration.  I hope that everyone who is able will be there as this promises to be a great evening.  Again, the gala event will be held on Saturday night, April 20th in the Regency Ballroom at the Hyatt Regency Crystal City Hotel.  As our guest of honor, you can look forward to special guest speakers, live music, delicious food, and an awards ceremony.  Registration materials for the Spring Conference have been sent out already.  So please take a moment and register early as seating is limited for the gala.  Hope to see you there!

VA Plans Further Study of Open Burn Pit Exposure and Adverse Health Effects

Follow-up to 2011 IOM Report Citing Potential Link to Long-term Illnesses

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), in partnership with the Department of Defense (DoD), plans to conduct follow-up research on all adverse health effects related to veterans’ potential exposure to airborne hazards and open-air burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan, citing the need for further study.  This joint initiative will also take related actions to promote effective monitoring and assessment of deployment-related exposures and their potential health effects.

Previously, VA asked the Institute of Medicine (IOM) to examine potential exposures and long-term health risks arising from exposure to smoke created from open pit burning to incinerate solid waste in Iraq and Afghanistan.  IOM used the Joint Base Balad (JBB) burn pit in Iraq as an example, analyzing air monitoring data and examining anticipated health effects from exposure to air pollutants found at JBB.  IOM also looked at studies of health effects in similar populations with similar exposures, such as fire fighters and incinerator workers.

While the 2011 IOM report cited a possible link between the open-air burn pits and reduced pulmonary function, questions remained regarding such exposure and associations with other adverse health effects.  These include cancer; respiratory, circulatory, and neurologic diseases; and adverse reproductive and developmental issues.

As a result, VA has outlined plans to work jointly with DoD to develop and conduct a study of veterans and current service members to assess potential long-term effects related to burn pit emissions in the context of other ambient exposures.  According to the Federal Register notice, such research will enable VA to assess affected veterans for compensation purposes, as well as for medical evaluation, treatment, and follow-up.  (See Federal Register/Vol. 78, No. 23/February 4, 2013, pp. 7860-7861.)

This proposed research comes on the heels of passage of the “Dignified Burial and Veterans’ Benefits Improvement Act of 2012” (S. 3202), which President Obama signed into law on January 10, 2013.   Included in the package is a bill requiring VA to establish a registry for veterans who may have been exposed to toxic chemicals and fumes from open-air burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan.  The Open Burn Pits Registry Act (S. 1798) was introduced by Sens. Tom Udall, Bob Corker and 6 co-sponsors on November 3, 2011.

By identifying who may have been exposed to burn-pit smoke, the new registry will “enhance VA’s ability to monitor the effects of exposure and keep Veterans informed about studies and treatments,” according to VA’s webpage on burn pits.  VA plans to announce directions for signing up once the registry is available.

Judge Schoelen Joins Features Speakers at NOVA Spring Conference

NOVA is pleased to announce that Judge Mary J. Schoelen of the United States Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims will join our distinguished panel of featured speakers at our upcoming Spring Conference.  Prior to her appointment in December 2004, Judge Schoelen served as Minority General Counsel and Deputy Staff Director for Benefits Programs for the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs of the United States Senate.

In addition to Judge Schoelen, our featured speakers include:

Thomas J. Murphy - appointed Director of Compensation Service on August 1, 2010.  As Director, Mr. Murphy is responsible for the development and implementation of policies and procedures related to the administration of VA disability and death compensation programs, which paid $44.5 billion dollars in benefits in fiscal year 2011 to over 3.7 million eligible veterans and dependents.  Mr. Murphy worked for the Federal Government for 10 years in the Department of Defense.

Michael Allen - Professor of Law at Stetson University College of Law, who teaches courses in Civil Procedure, Remedies, Complex Litigation, Constitutional Law I, the Federal Courts and the Federal System, and Veterans’ Benefits Law.  He also is the co-coach of four of Stetson’s moot court teams.  Mr. Allen supervises Stetson’s internship programs at the Florida Supreme Court, the Florida Second District Court of Appeal, the CAVC, and the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida.

James Ridgway - Chief Counsel for Policy and Procedure at the Board of Veterans’ Appeals within VA.  Mr. Ridgway is also a Professorial Lecturer in Law at the George Washington University School of Law, where he teaches veterans law.  In addition, he is the founder and administrator of VeteransLawLibrary.com, a free veterans law resource for practitioners and scholars.  Mr. Ridgway currently serves as the president of the CAVC Bar Association.

Kenneth M. CarpenterPrivate law practitioner in Topeka, Kansas since 1973.  Mr. Carpenter was admitted to the Kansas Supreme Court, 1973; Kansas Federal District Court, 1973; 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, 1984; U. S. Court of FederaI CIaims, 1987; Federal Circuit Court of Appeals, 1989; Court of Veterans Appeals, 1990; United States Supreme Court, 1990.  His major areas of practice are Veterans Disability Law and Criminal Law. He is a founding member of NOVA and President of Carpenter Chartered, a professional legal corporation which began doing pro bono representation of disabled veterans in 1983.

Complete biographies of our Featured Speakers may be found in the 2013 Conference Brochure.

We look forward to seeing you at our Spring Conference, featuring a one-day New Practitioner Session (April 19), the General Seminar (April 20-21), and a 20th Anniversary Celebration Gala (evening of April 20) for all members and their guests.  The NOVA conference is intended for both new practitioners of veterans’ law as well as more advanced practitioners.  Hope to see you there!

VA Regulation Rewrite Project Moves Forward

120-Day Comment Period Anticipated

VA Chief of Staff John R. Gingrich has signed the VA Compensation and Pension Regulation Rewrite Project (AO13) on behalf of Secretary Shinseki.  Over the years, NOVA among others has submitted many comments on the proposed regulations in this project.

AO13 compiles the 20 Notices of Proposed Rulemaking that VA has published since 2004, to permit the public to see all the material together and submit new comments.  It includes VA’s responses to all previous comments on the proposed rules and solicits any new comments based on review of the consolidated material.

Due to the large size of this document, VA plans to double the standard 60-day comment period.  AO13 will now be reviewed by the Office of Management and Budget, and then published in the Federal Register.  NOVA will notify you when it is published for public comment.

The importance of AO13 for veterans’ advocates cannot be understated.  “For a rules-based process like adjudicating veterans’ claims, it is crucial we have rules everyone can find, understand, and apply,” William F. Russo, VA Deputy Director, stated.

According to VA’s Summary of Regulation Rewrite Project on its website, “These regulations govern more than $41 billion annually to approximately 3.7 million disabled veterans, their families, and their survivors.  Our goal is to rewrite these regulations in a logical, claimant-focused, and user-friendly format, in order to help veterans, their families, and VA personnel understand regulatory provisions that directly affect compensation and pension determinations.”

If you have any questions, suggestions, or concerns about the VA Regulation Rewrite Project, please contact William F. Russo, Deputy Director, Office of Regulation Policy & Management, Office of the General Counsel, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, (202) 461-7566.

CAVC Bar Association Membership Drive Underway

Preview of Planned Events for 2013

The annual membership drive for the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims (CAVC) Bar Association is in full swing.  The group has a dynamic year of educational, networking, and social events planned for its members in 2013.  Upcoming highlights include:

  • March 14 - Happy hour at the City Club of Washington at Metro Center, featuring practitioners from the Court, the private bar, veterans service organizations, the BVA, and VA's Office of General Counsel.  And, of course, a wonderful spread of hors d’oeuvres for all who attend.
  • March 20 - Panel will examine the ins and outs of representing incarcerated veterans. Having the support of earned benefits can help a troubled veteran turn his life around, but helping veterans succeed in the claims process while in jail can be especially challenging.  (Available online through the Federal Circuit Bar Association's WebX facilities, as well.)
  • April 19 – Half-day program following the Court's Twelfth Judicial Conference with featured speaker the Hon. Allison Hickey, Under Secretary for Benefits for the Department of Veterans Affairs, who will discuss the present state of VA adjudication system and the many initiatives that will shape its future.  Also will include a two-hour panel on understanding and developing expert evidence on causation.  The seven-member panel will include experts in the fields of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), orthopedic injuries, hearing loss, the effects of radiation exposure, and conditions associated with the water contamination discovered at Camp LeJeune.
  • May onward - After the Judicial Conference, the Bar Association will co-sponsor the reception for the formal investiture of the CAVC's newest member, the Hon. William S. Greenberg.  Later in the summer, an educational panel will examine the important changes brought about by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) after it is published in May.  The Bar Association also will be working with the National Parks Service to volunteer again to wash either the Vietnam Memorial Wall or the Korean War Memorial.

So if you haven't joined or renewed for this year, now is the time.  For the membership form and rates, please go to http://cavcbar.net/html/membership.html.

Brief Notices

VA Issues Fast Letter for Using SAFE to Transfer Information

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has issued Fast Letter 13-03 - Utilizing the Safe Access File Exchange (SAFE) to facilitate information exchange between VA and Department of Defense (DoD) in the Integrated Disability Evaluation System (IDES).

This Fast Letter has been added to the website and calendar as FL 13-03 and its enclosure.  For complete information, please see www. Attached is Fast Letter 13-03 - Utilizing the Safe Access File Exchange (SAFE) to facilitate information exchange between VA and Department of Defense (DoD) in the Integrated Disability Evaluation System (IDES).

This has been added to the website and calendar as FL 13-03 and its enclosure.   We have posted this Fast Letter on the NOVA Wiki.

February 25th Deadline for Law Student Judicial Conference Scholarship

The CAVC Bar Association is sponsoring a Judicial Conference scholarship competition specifically geared to law students.   Five students will be selected to receive a paid registration ($275 value) to the Court's Twelfth Judicial Conference – a two-day conference to be held on Thursday, April 18 and Friday, April 19, 2013, at the Grand Hyatt Washington at Metro Center.  Winners will also receive free registration to the Bar Association's half-day component ($95 value), which will immediately follow in the afternoon on Friday, April 19.

To be eligible, applicants must be currently enrolled at an ABA accredited law school.  To enter, applicants must submit their entries under any of the three categories (writing competition; community service; artistic contribution) and must specifically identify the category they have selected.  Only one entry is permitted per applicant.  The deadline for all entries is Monday, February 25.

For the official announcement and competition details, go to www.cavcbar.net.

FBA Program Examines Representing Combat Vets in Criminal Justice System

On February 27, 2013, the Veterans Law Section and the Criminal Law Section of the Federal Bar Association (FBA) will present a day-long program on the “Representation of Combat Veterans in the Criminal Justice System.”  The event will take place at the George Mason University School of Law in Arlington, VA from 8:30 a.m. to 4:15 p.m.  To view the full agenda and register online, click on Calendar at www.fedbar.org.

Reserve Your Space at the 20th Anniversary Gala Event, April 20

NOVA is hosting a special 20th Anniversary Gala Celebration as part of this year’s Spring Conference just outside of Washington, DC.  The event will be held in the Regency Ballroom at the Hyatt Regency Crystal City Hotel on Saturday, April 20th starting at 6:00 p.m.  The gala will feature special guest speakers and an awards ceremony, as well as great food and live music.

Seating is limited, so reserve your space now!

For more information, visit our website at: https://vetadvocates.org/

Writs Webinar Scores High Marks

NOVA is pleased to report that the results of our recent survey of participants in this month’s Writs Webinar indicate the training session with CLE credits was a huge success.  With more than one-third of the participants completing the survey, the vast majority gave the webinar an excellent overall rating and high marks for value.

According to the survey, participants had a much better understanding of writs after taking the webinar.  They rated the presenter, Robert Chisholm, with the highest ratings, citing his practical insights.  They also found the sample petition to be a helpful tool.  The registration process was rated as easy to follow and understand.

Participants in the survey offered a variety of great suggestions for future webinar topics such as “A Summary of Recent Court Cases”, “How to Better Deal with VSOs”, “Substitution DIC and Accrued Benefits for Dependents”, and “Improving Ratings Claims for PTSD”. We want to thank everyone who took the time to give us their valuable feedback and for taking part in the webinar!  NOVA will take all of these comments into consideration when planning our next webinar, which will take place in the summer.

Welcome New NOVA Members!

NOVA would like to welcome the following new members to the NOVA community.  We look forward to meeting you and working with you to help better serve our nations’ veterans:

Deana Adamson, Piemonte Law Firm, Charlotte, NC

Christine Clemens, Finkelstein & Partners, Newburgh, NY

Wade B. Coye, Coye Law Firm, Orlando, FL

Richard J. Dewitt, III, Pines Dewitt DiPietro, Coral Gables, FL

Stephanie Grogan, VA Disability Law Center, Tulsa, OK

Allen W. Gumpenberger, Alpha, Shelton, CT

Mandy Hentkowski, Disability Attorneys of Michigan, Warren, MI

Susan Hogg, Susan Hogg, Atty., Corvallis, OR

Jennifer S. Homer, Arthur, Chapman, Kettering, Smetak & Pikala, Minneapolis, MN

Linden H. Joesting, Office of Information Practices, Honolulu, HI

Andrea Kalligheri, Spano & Dawicki, Saugus, MA

Michael J. Koberlein, Berry Law Firm, Lincoln, NE

Betty Lam, Vietnam Veterans of America, Silver Spring, MD

April K. McGuire, Viterna Law, Belleville, MI

Alexandra Michalowich, Sullivan & Kehoe, Kings Park, NY

Brian M. Mittman, Markhoff & Mittman, White Plains, NY

Kami Nedbalek, Attorney At Law, Tyler, TX

Lisa J. Palmer, VA Disability Law Center, Tulsa, OK

Erin E. Ralston, Goodman, Allen & Filetti, Virginia Beach, VA

James R. Robertson, Bravo Law Group, San Diego, CA

Bradley Schwartz, L Bradley Schwartz, LLC, Chicago, IL

Stephen Spano, Spano & Dawicki, Saugus, MA

Ryan A. Spencer, Marcari, Russotto, Spencer & Balaban, Chesapeake, VA

Tieesha N. Taylor, Law Office of Tieesha N. Taylor, Miami, FL

Antonio Tejeda, Law Office of Tejeda Guzman, Willmar, MN

Krystle D. Waldron, Goodman, Allen & Filetti, Richmond, VA

Edythe S. Whitaker, Suzanne Whitaker PC, Stockbridge, GA

Wyatt Wright, Wayne Wright LLP, San Antonio, TX

Early Bird Deadline for Spring Conference, March 1

To take advantage of our Early Bird Rates for the NOVA 2013 Conference, your mail-in registrations MUST be postmarked on or before March 1.  Everything you need to know about this great event is outlined in your 20th Anniversary Celebration Brochure.  Refer to the Registration Fee Schedule for complete information on early bird savings for the New Practitioner Session (April 19), the Spring Conference (April 20-21), or both!

If you choose to stay at the Hyatt Regency Crystal City Hotel, you can take advantage of our room block rate for single or double occupancy, available two days prior and two days after the conference based on room availability.  Room reservations must be made by March 28, 2013 for these special rates to be honored.  Refer to the Hotel & Registration Information/Deadlines section of your brochure for details.

Act now to take advantage of these great deals.

Apply for William G. Smith Scholarships for NOVA Conference by March 15

Scholarships have been created in memory of NOVA founding member William G. Smith, Esq., who provided leadership and support to countless practitioners in veterans’ law.  These scholarships cover the cost of registration only and are available to individuals who would not otherwise be able to attend the seminar due to financial hardship.  Attorneys, non-attorney practitioners, law students, and accredited veteran’s service representatives may apply.

To be considered for a scholarship, please submit a letter of interest which includes a description of your involvement in the area of veterans’ benefits law along with a current resume.  The granting of scholarships as well as the number of recipients shall be at the discretion of the Board of Directors.  The deadline to submit a request for scholarship consideration is March 15, 2013.

Renewal Notice for Past-Due Members!

If you have not already done so, please renew your NOVA membership now.  The deadline for renewals was January 31.  Past-due notices have been sent as a reminder.  As a sustaining member, your dues are still only $400 per year!  Remember, you can sponsor one new member and save $50, or sponsor two and save $100. Please refer to your renewal materials for further details.

Thank you in advance for your continued support and participation as a NOVA member.  Remember, you must renew your membership to maintain your access to our Members Only Bulletin Board, WIKI, and other NOVA services you do not want to miss!

CAVC Twelfth Judicial Conference, April 18-19 - Save the Date!

Chief Judge Bruce E. Kasold of the United States Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims invites all persons interested in the practice of veterans law to attend the Court’s upcoming Judicial Conference, to be held April 18 and 19, 2013, at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Washington, D.C.

Please visit the Court’s website at www.uscourts.cavc.gov for detailed program and registration information.

 

 

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