Veterans’ Advocate Insider – February & March 2015 Edition

President’s Message: Clarifying NOVA’s Position on VA Initiatives

Recently, the NOVA Board of Directors met in New Orleans for several days to conduct strategic planning. Such a meeting is useful in helping us to better define NOVA’s goals and identify the resources necessary to achieve those goals. Meeting minutes will be available on the website shortly, but I would like to share some highlights, if you will, of the meeting.

The Board discussed and clarified its position on various VA initiatives and actions, such as closing of the administrative record, the expedited claims process, electronic access for advocates, centralized processing of evidence, ex parte communications by VA, the failure of VA to provide copies of correspondence it provides to our clients, and others. Some of these issues are of real concern to the Board and are the subject of several letters to senior VA leaders to express our concerns.

At least one meeting with senior VA officials has already occurred and others are scheduled or in process. We believe it is important to clearly define NOVA’s position on these issues and then communicate our concerns to attempt to sway VA from certain directions it has taken that are harmful to veterans. In some instances, this has worked well. In others, we have had to send VA an invitation to meet us at the Federal Circuit.

The Board also reviewed several legislative actions that are in the works, such as a bill to enable the CAVC to hear class actions suits, to reduce appeal response times, to maintain the number of justices authorized for CAVC, and others. NOVA continues to respond to Congress when our counsel is requested. As many of you are aware, NOVA provided testimony recently to the House subcommittee on veterans’ affairs regarding the VA’s appeals process. I believe we fulfill a valuable role in this testimony given the extensive experience of our members in advocating before VA and the courts.

Many additional topics were addressed at the strategic planning meeting. These included strategies for seminars, webinars and other income generating opportunities; outreach to other bar associations; committee assignments; and others.

In all, this was a very productive meeting – one that epitomizes the value of volunteerism in an organization such as ours. To their credit, Board members took a good part of three days away from work and family to meet in New Orleans, bearing the costs for travel and lodging. Other volunteers serve on committees, such as the Seminar and Regulatory Comment committees, that can require considerable involvement. Others, such as Ken Carpenter recently and Todd Wesche, Matthew Hill, and Ted Jarvi, previously, devote substantial effort and cost to testify before Congress on NOVA’s behalf.

I have spoken on volunteerism before and realize fully that it is because of our members that NOVA has been so successful. In light of that fact, I will end this with a request for you to become more involved in our organization. We need a few interested individuals to assist with the duties of the Regulatory Comment and Congressional Testimony committees. In addition, there will be at least one vacancy for the Board to fill next year. Please consider volunteering for these important positions.

Thank you.

Until next time,


VA Simplifies U.S. Map with 5 Regions for All Services

On January 26, 2015, VA announced that it will create a singular regional framework that divides the agency into five regions as part of its major reorganization announced last fall called MyVA. The regional boundaries are set to be completed this summer.

To view the new Regional Map, click HERE.

In the meantime, regional offices overseeing benefits processing, home loan awards, public affairs work, technology support, and health care services will each have to determine how to realign their operations in light of the new departmental map.

VA officers say plans should be in place to ensure their structures are aligned within the new common map by the end of June. That said, by midsummer, all VA agencies should be coordinating efforts along the newly drawn five-region map, allowing veterans a single point of entry for a host of office offerings.

Right now, VA is using at least nine organizational maps, subdividing the country into dozens of regional networks and administrative responsibilities for hundreds of programs.

In a press statement, VA Secretary Bob McDonald called the work a "first step in empowering veterans to interact with one VA" and a way to "improve the veteran experience by enabling veterans to more easily ... access their earned care and benefits."

So far, MyVA has produced changes like better signage at hospitals and more independent authority for call center operators on veterans’ benefits issues. VA officials say the map change has the potential to improve communication and coordination between offices that had little interaction before, creating more one-stop shops for veterans.

Last fall, McDonald promoted the MyVA program as an effort to provide better customer service to veterans by trimming excess layers like duplicative hotlines and single-subject offices to combat the VA’s public image as an unwieldy bureaucracy.

To view the VA’s press release, click HERE.

To view related articles, click below:

NOVA Testifies before House DAMA on Appeals Process

NOVA voiced its concern over the troubled state of the appeals process during a hearing before the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs (HVAC) Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs (DAMA) on January 22, 2015. Kenneth M. Carpenter, Esq., president of Carpenter Chartered and NOVA founding member, both prepared and presented the testimony on behalf of NOVA.

The hearing, entitled “Veterans’ Dilemma: Navigating the Appeals System for Veterans Claims,” focused on the state of the troubled appeals process for veterans’ claims, including the long-ignored systemic problems that contribute to the backlog of appeals.

Witnesses at the hearing included:

Panel 1

  • Beth McCoy, Esq., Deputy Under Secretary for Field Operations, Veterans Benefits Administration, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
  • Accompanied by Ronald S. Burke, Jr., Director, Appeals Management Center, Veterans Benefits Administration, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
  • Laura H. Eskenazi, Esq., Executive-in-Charge and Vice Chairman, Board of Veterans’ Appeals, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

Panel 2

  • Gerald T. Manar, Deputy Director, National Veterans Service, Veterans of Foreign Wars
  • Zachary Hearn, Deputy Director for Claims, Veterans Affairs and Rehabilitation Division, The American Legion
  • Diane Boyd Rauber, Esq., Associate General Counsel for Appeals, Paralyzed Veterans of America
  • Paul R. Varela, Assistant National Legislative Director, Disabled American Veterans
  • James R. Vale, Esq., Director, Veterans Benefits Program, Vietnam Veterans of America

Panel 3

  • Barton F. Stichman, Esq., Joint Executive Director, National Veterans Legal Services Program
  • Kenneth M. Carpenter, Esq., Founding Member, NOVA

You can read the testimony of each panelist by clicking on the individual’s name HERE. To view the video of the hearing, click HERE. (Fast-forward to 54:18 to view the testimony of Ken Carpenter.)

NOVA’s Suggestions to Improve the Appeals Process

First, NOVA recommends that Congress make a substantive statutory change by amending the provisions of 38 C.F.R. § 7105 by eliminating the redundant requirements of a statement of the case and a substantive appeal.

Second, even if Congress does not amend § 7105 to eliminate the need for a statement of the case and a substantive appeal, Congress should amend § 7105 to require that VA certify and transfer a claims file in an appeal to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals (the Board) no later than 60 days after the VA’s receipt of a substantive appeal.

Third, Congress should amend the provisions of 38 U.S.C. § 5109B and the provisions of 38 U.S.C. § 7112 to ensure expeditious treatment of remands from the Board and from the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims (the Court).

Statistics from both the Board and the Court confirm that the VA’s failure to “fully and sympathetically develop the veteran’s claim to its optimum before deciding it on the merits” is the consistent reason for remands. The appeals process is not operating efficiently because at the Board, 4 out of every 10 cases are remanded and at the Court, more than 50 percent of the cases result in remands. These statistics clearly show that the VA’s appeal process is significantly delayed because VA does not fully and sympathetically develop the claim in the first instance.

Remands are a result of the VA’s failure to “fully and sympathetically develop the claim before deciding it on the merits.” Congress must reaffirm its commitment to Veterans and their families that Congress expects VA to get it right the first time. Getting VA decisions right the first time is possible only when VA fully and sympathetically develops every claim to its optimum before deciding every claim on the merits. Eliminating or at least minimizing delays can be accomplished by the Congress’s adoption of NOVA recommendations.

The Board of Directors wishes to thank Ken Carpenter for his exceptional effort in preparing and presenting NOVA’s testimony on this important matter.

To view NOVA’s testimony in its entirety, click HERE.

VA Proposed Rule Takes Aim at Pension Poachers

A recently published VA Proposed Rule appears to take aim at pension poachers who prey on the assets of unsuspecting veterans and their families. Net Worth, Asset Transfers, and Income Exclusions for Need-Based Benefits – was published in the Federal Register on January 23, 2015. VA is accepting comments through March 24, 2015.

Highlights of the VA’s Proposed Rule include:

  • A three-year look back period
  • Presumption that assets transferred during look back period are covered assets
  • Net worth definition consistent with Medicaid definition
  • Definitions of daily living activities and medical expenses

The Summary of the Proposed Rule is presented below for your convenience.

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) proposes to amend its regulations governing entitlement to VA pension to maintain the integrity of the pension program and to implement recent statutory changes. The proposed regulations would establish new requirements pertaining to the evaluation of net worth and asset transfers for pension purposes and would identify those medical expenses that may be deducted from countable income for VA's needs-based benefit programs. The intended effect of these changes is to respond to recent recommendations made by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), to maintain the integrity of VA's needs-based benefit programs, and to clarify and address issues necessary for the consistent adjudication of pension and parents' dependency and indemnity compensation claims. We also propose to implement statutory changes pertaining to certain pension beneficiaries who receive Medicaid-covered nursing home care, as well as a statutory income exclusion for certain disabled veterans and a non-statutory income exclusion pertaining to annuities.

To read the full Proposed Rule (80 FR 3839), click HERE.

HVAC Considers Several Draft Bills Re: Claims, Benefits

The House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs (HVAC) is considering several drafts bill affecting the lives of our nation’s veterans. These include H.R. 254, which strikes at the heart of the VA’s recent rule mandating use of standard forms; H.R. 180, which extends foreclosure protections for service members; and H.R. 294, which authorizes VA to pay for long-term care for certain veterans in medical foster homes. Summaries are provided here.

H.R. 254 - To amend title 38, United States Code, to codify certain existing provisions of law relating to effective dates for claims under the laws administered by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, and for other purposes. (Introduced on 01/09/2015 by Rep. Abraham)

This draft bill would codify several current VA regulations that are effective until March 24, 2015, and add other provisions to title 38 relating to effective dates for claims received by VA.

Section 1(a) of the bill would amend 38 U.S.C. § 5100, which currently defines the term "claimant," to add definitions for "claim," "formal claim," "informal claim," and "reasonably raised claim."

Section 1(b) would amend 38 U.S.C. § 5101(a) to codify VA’s current "informal claim" regulation, which VA removed effective March 24, 2015, in favor of a standard "intent to file" process. If added, 5101(a)(3)(A) would invalidate VA’s recent rulemaking which requires claims to be filed on standard forms, by requiring VA to accept informal claims submitted "in a format other than on an application form prescribed by the Secretary."

Section 1(c) of the bill would amend 38 U.S.C. § 5110(a), regarding effective dates for VA’s award of benefits, by essentially codifying VA’s current regulation on effective dates for informal claims. The new provision at 5110(a)(2) would invalidate VA’s recent rulemaking by requiring VA to establish an effective date for benefits based upon a claimant’s non-standard, informal communication, as long as the claimant files an application by not later than 180 days after the date VA furnishes the person the required application form.

Section 1(d) of the bill would amend title 38 to create new section 5103B and require VA to identify, address, and adjudicate "reasonably raised" claims in the course of addressing and adjudicating any claim as part of a formal claim. The amendments made by this bill would take effect on the date of the enactment and apply with respect to a claim submitted on or after such date.

Read the entire bill HERE.

H.R. 180 - Servicemember Foreclosure Protections Extension Act of 2015 (Introduced on 01/07/2015 by Rep. Grayson)

This draft bill would amend the Honoring America's Veterans and Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act of 2012 to extend through calendar year 2016 the one-year period after a service member's military service during which:

(1) a court may stay proceedings to enforce an obligation on real or personal property owned by the service member before such military service; and (2) any sale, foreclosure, or seizure of such property shall be invalid without a court order or waiver agreement signed by the service member.

The extended one-year period is set to expire on December 31, 2015, and return to a nine-month period under the Service-members Civil Relief Act. This bill revives, effective January 1, 2017 (currently, January 1, 2016), the old nine-month period in place of the one-year period granted by such Act.

H.R. 294 - Long-Term Care Veterans Choice Act (Introduced on 01/13/2015 by Rep. Miller)

This draft bill would amend section 1720 of title 38 U.S.C. to add the authority for the Secretary to pay for long-term care for certain Veterans in medical foster homes (MFHs).
Specifically, the draft bill would allow Veterans, for whom VA is required to provide nursing home care by law, to be transferred to homes designed to provide non-institutional long-term supportive care for Veterans who are unable to live independently and prefer to live in a family setting. VA would pay MFH expenses by a contract or agreement with the home. One condition of providing support for care in a MFH would be the Veteran’s agreement to accept home health care services furnished by VA.

Judge Mary Schoelen to Address NOVA’s 2015 Spring Assembly

NOVA is honored to announce that Judge Mary Schoelen of the United States Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims will speak at NOVA’s upcoming Spring Conference in San Francisco. Featured Speakers for the event also include Robert Reynolds, Director of VA Benefits Assistance Service; Thomas Murphy, VA Director of Compensation and Pension Services; and Founding NOVA Member Kenneth Carpenter of Carpenter Chartered. Read more about these featured speakers here.

JUDGE MARY SCHOELEN was appointed a Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims in December 2004. Prior to her appointment, 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.

Judge Schoelen earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of California and a J.D. from the George Washington University Law School. During law school, she worked as a law clerk for the National Veterans Legal Services Project, representing appellants at the Board of Veterans' Appeals. Then, she interned with the U.S. Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs, working on various issues pertaining to adjudication of veterans benefits claims. Later, she began working as a staff attorney for Vietnam Veterans of America's Veterans Benefits Program.

Judge Schoelen rejoined the U.S. Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs staff in March 1997, where she was responsible for development and implementation of policy pertaining to veterans benefits, as well as oversight of the implementation of that policy. She served as Minority Counsel from March 1997 to March 2001, as Minority General Counsel from March 2001 to June 2001, as Deputy Staff Director for Benefits Programs and General Counsel from June 2001 to January 2003, and Minority Deputy Staff Director for Benefits Programs and General Counsel from January 2003 to December 2004 under Chairman and Ranking Member John D. Rockefeller IV and Ranking Member Bob Graham.

THOMAS J. MURPHY was 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 in a variety of positions, including Logistics Manager, Administrative Officer, Training Manager, Staffing Specialist, and Chief of Employee Services. He joined the Federal Government from Litton Saudi Arabia Limited, where he was a Training Manager, Senior Engineering Instructor, and Installation and Checkout Engineer.

Mr. Murphy retired from the military as a Major after serving 15 years in the Colorado National Guard and six years in the Marine Corps Reserve. His military assignments included Assistant Deputy Chief of Staff for Personnel, Battalion Operations officer, Battery Commander, and Battery Fire Direction Officer.

ROBERT T. REYNOLDS was appointed Director of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Benefits Assistance Service in May 2010. In this capacity he provides executive level oversight in the development policy, planning, and integration of VBA's Direct Services and Client Outreach. Mr. Reynolds completed several leadership development programs including the Senior Executive Fellows Program at Harvard University (2011) and is an alumnus of the Federal Executive Institute (2008) and Leadership VA (2005), where he received the ELMO award.

He is a member of several Veteran Service Organizations including the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, 82nd Airborne Association, Special Forces Association, and is actively involved with the Disabled American Veterans, where he was elected as the National Commander of the 1.3 million-member Disabled American Veterans during the organization's 2007 National Convention in New Orleans.

KENNETH M. CARPENTER has been engaged in the private practice of law in Topeka, Kansas since 1973. He is admitted to the following courts: Kansas Supreme Court, 1973; Kansas Federal District Court, 1973; 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, 1984; U. S. Court of Federal Claims, 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 the National Organization of Veterans' Advocates, Inc.

Mr. Carpenter is President of Carpenter Chartered, a professional legal corporation which currently employs three full-time attorneys, one attorney who is of counsel, and 12 support staff. Carpenter Chartered began doing pro bono representation of disabled veterans in 1983. The primary focus of the firm's representation is with the psychiatrically disabled veteran, most often combat veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The firm also specializes in total disability cases and claims of clear and unmistakable error. The firm currently has an open case load of more than 400 veterans at every adjudicatory level, from initial claims at the Regional office to claims before the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.

VA Offers Help with SEP Sign-Up at NOVA’s 3-Day Conference

NOVA is proud to report that Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) officials will lead two special sessions at NOVA’s 2015 Spring Conference, educating attorneys and advocates on how best to use the VA’s new electronic benefits (e-Benefits) system. This year, NOVA’s Spring Conference takes place in San Francisco from April 16-18 at the Hyatt Regency Financial District.

Gaining electronic access for attorneys and advocates has long been a top priority of NOVA’s leadership. For the first time at a NOVA conference, Robert T. Reynolds, VA Director of Benefits Assistance Service, will address attendees of the New Practitioner Session held on Thursday, April 16, prior to the two-day general session. His presentation will focus on electronic access through e-Benefits and the Stakeholder Enterprise Portal (SEP).

In support of this session, VA representatives will be available throughout the three-day conference in the exhibitor area to help those who wish to register for SEP access and to answer questions regarding SEP and e-Benefits. Frank Bryceland, Kevin Secor, and a third VA representative will staff a table in the exhibitor’s area, lending their expertise and assisting interested parties with SEP sign-up.

Additionally, NOVA is pleased to welcome back Thomas J. Murphy, VA Director of Compensation and Pension Service, who has taken part in the past five NOVA conferences and has often spoken of the VA’s plans to make electronic access a reality. Mr. Murphy will address conference attendees on Friday, April 17, providing further insight into e-Benefits and the VA’s latest efforts to facilitate attorney and advocate access.

“NOVA has worked tirelessly on behalf of our members to secure electronic access to VA files. The VA’s generous support at NOVA’s Spring Conference is extremely beneficial for members to acquire a better understanding of how e-Benefits works and what needs to be done to get SEP access,” NOVA President Mike Viterna notes.

If you have attempted to sign up for SEP access with mixed results, please don’t miss this chance to register for SEP access on-site at NOVA’s 2015 Spring Conference – San Francisco.

You may register for the conference directly online by clicking HERE. Or, view the official conference brochure and registration forms by clicking HERE.

Fresh Perspectives Energize NOVA’s Spring Training Program

NOVA’s 2015 Spring Conference will be held at the Hyatt Regency Financial District in San Francisco! The conference includes a one-day New Practitioner Session scheduled for Thursday, April 16, and the general seminar, scheduled for Friday and Saturday, April 17 and 18. Here’s a preview of NOVA’s Spring Training Program – sure to get you in shape for the challenges ahead.

Reminder: VA representatives will be available in the exhibitor’s area throughout the three-day conference to help those who wish to register for SEP access and to answer any questions you may have about e-Benefits.

New Practitioner Session – Thursday, April 16

  • OVERVIEW OF A VA CLAIM, presented by Zachary M. Stolz, Esq., Chisholm, Chisholm & Kilpatrick
  • WALK THROUGH A CLAIM, presented by Leslie Gaines, Esq., Hill & Ponton
  • SERVICE CONNECTION, presented by Chris Attig, Esq., Attig Law Firm
  • DOWNSTREAM ISSUES, presented by Christopher J. Boudi, Esq., Bosley & Bratch
  • EVIDENCE DEVELOPMENT, presented by Robert Chisholm, Esq., Chisholm, Chisholm & Kilpatrick
  • VA UPDATE: ELECTRONIC ACCESS THROUGH eBENEFITS AND SEP, presented by Robert T. Reynolds, Director VA Benefits Assistance Service

Spring Conference – Friday, April 17

  • HOW TO USE RECENT COURT DECISIONS (ADVANCED), presented by Kenneth M. Carpenter, Esq., Carpenter Chartered
  • VA REGULATION UPDATE (BASIC), presented by Andrew Rutz, Esq., Bosley & Bratch
  • UPDATE FROM THE VA, presented by Thomas J. Murphy, Director VA Compensation Service
  • PUT IT TO REST! VA SLEEP APNEA CLAIMS (BASIC), presented by Chris Attig, Esq. Attig Law Firm
  • HOW TO USE A PARALEGAL (ADVANCED), presented by Michelle Martin, Chisholm, Chisholm & Kilpatrick
  • DEADLY IMPACT OF CONTAMINATED WATER AT CAMP LEJEUENE (BASIC), presented by Eugene Powell, Esq., Bluestein, Nichols, Thompson & Delgado
  • CAVC TALK (ADVANCED), presented by Judge Mary Schoelen, United States Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims
  • AGENT EXAM (BASIC), presenter to be designated

Spring Conference – Saturday, April 18

  • WINNING A CASE AT THE BVA: A JOINT PANEL DISCUSSION, presented by Joseph Moore, Esq., Bergmann & Moore and Ralph Bratch, Esq., Bosley & Bratch
  • POTENTIAL PITFALLS OF ISSUE EXHAUSTION AT VA, presented by Ronald L. Smith, Esq., Finnegan Law
  • ETHICS (BASIC), presented by Sandra W. Wischow, Esq., Goodman, Allen & Filetti
  • EXTRASCHEDULAR CONSIDERATION, presented by Kenneth M. Carpenter, Esq., Carpenter Chartered
  • MAKING THE VA RECOGNIZE STANDARD VOCATIONAL PRINCIPLES, presented by John V. Tucker, Esq., Tucker & Ludin

Important Registration Information

Great news!! You now have the option to register for all NOVA conferences online, or you may complete the registration form.

To complete your conference registration using our ONLINE Form, click HERE.

To view your Spring 2015 Conference Brochure and registration forms, click HERE.

We are also accepting reservations for the NOVA Hotel Block at the beautiful Hyatt Regency! The Special Group Rate of $225 plus tax, per room, per night will apply. Room reservations must be made by Tuesday March 24, 2015 for the special group rate to be honored. Please book your rooms as soon as possible as our room block is filling up very quickly.

To book your room at the Hyatt Regency, click HERE!

Reminder: The deadline to apply for a William G. Smith Scholarship to attend the Spring Conference is February 13, 2015.

To be considered for a scholarship, please complete the scholarship application, along with a current resume to Meghan Dunham, Conference & Membership Coordinator, at The application can be found HERE.

If you have any questions, you may also contact NOVA Staff directly at (202) 587-5708.

Tripplaar Appointed DAMA Staff Director and Counsel

Ms. Maria C. Tripplaar has been named Staff Director and Counsel to the Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs (DAMA) of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, replacing Rory Riley. Prior to her appointment, Ms. Tripplaar had served as staff attorney for the National Veterans Legal Services Program (NVLSP) since 2010.

At NVLSP, Ms. Tripplaar administered day-to-day operations of the NVLSP Volunteer Lawyer Program, a partnership between NVLSP, veteran service organizations, and law firms who represent claimants before the Board of Veterans' Appeals. In this capacity, she mentored volunteer attorneys who represent veterans in this program. Additionally, Ms. Tripplaar trained lawyers and non-lawyers to advocate for veterans before VA, and trained service officers.

Ms. Tripplaar is a member of the Maryland State Bar. She has represented veterans before the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, as well as in front of the Board of Veterans’ Appeals. She has also devoted significant time to the Nehmer v. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs lawsuit.

Ms. Tripplaar began her career as an attorney for the Board of Veterans' Appeals, where she wrote appellate rulings regarding motions for corrective action for administrative law judges. She is a graduate of the University of Maryland (B.A., Political Science, 2005), and The Catholic University of America Columbus School of Law (J.D., 2008).

Veterans Lawyer Ralph Bratch Acquires Jarvi Law Firm

Tempe, AZ (January 20, 2015) - Veterans law attorney Ralph J. Bratch of Bosley & Bratch, P.C. has acquired the Law Firm of Theodore Jarvi, based in Tempe, Ariz., effective January 1. During its initial phase, the newly formed Jarvi & Bratch will operate as a subsidiary of Bosley & Bratch, P.C. – a recognized leader in veterans’ disability law.

The acquisition of Jarvi Law complements the nationwide resources of Bosley & Bratch – one of the most experienced VA law firms in the country. Jarvi & Bratch will continue to operate out of Tempe, focusing on post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), Total Disability due to Individual Unemployability (TDIU), and blindness cases, among others.

“Jarvi & Bratch offers decades of experience representing veterans, their dependents, and survivors, coupled with a deep personal understanding of the tough challenges faced by today’s veterans that’s rooted in our own military service,” Bratch reports. Both attorneys are decorated veterans.

Mr. Bratch currently sits on the Board of Directors of NOVA, and also chairs the Seminar Committee. He is a member of the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims (CAVC) Bar Association, the American Legion, and the Brain Injury Association. His military service includes 12 years as a Judge Advocate in the JAG Corps of the Army Reserve, attaining the rank of Major.

Mr. Jarvi served as president of NOVA from August 2004 to November 2006. He has been a sustaining NOVA member since 1993. Mr. Jarvi is accredited as a Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) representative and has practiced VA law since 1991. During that time, he has represented hundreds of veterans nationwide, including more than 200 at the CAVC. He has a long military history, starting with 5 years as an enlisted man and ending with 20 years as a reserve JAG.

New NOVA Webinar – Plan for Profit – Set for March 4th

NOVA will hold its next webinar – Plan for Profit: How to Build a Viable Veterans Law Practice – on March 4, 2015 at 2:00 p.m. Eastern Time. Are you interested in representing Veterans but concerned about how long it may take to realize revenues? NOVA Board Member and Veterans Law Attorney Chris Attig will present his proven, personal approach to reaching profitability, sharing concepts and strategies that have led to his own success in this specialized area of practice.

Don’t let gloomy forecasts get in your way! You need not wait 3-5 years to reach your financial goals. This webinar will help you get there sooner. In addition to financial basics, Chris will cover the importance of setting a vision for profitability, how to make the best case selection decisions, formulas for calculating and projecting revenue and expenses, and other practical tips and pointers.

The Attig Law Firm has been representing veterans at all levels of the VA claims process since 2007. Joining NOVA in 2010, Chris has become a regular presenter at NOVA conferences. He has also instructed others through his popular Veterans Law Blog and his series of Veterans Law eBooks.

If you would like to represent Veterans and are looking for a solid plan of action, please don’t hesitate. Plan for Profit may be just what you need to get your practice on the right track! Please join us on March 4th to learn more about how to turn your vision for success into a reality.

To register for this webinar now, click HERE.

Zachary Stolz Named Partner at CCK Law

Providence, RI (January 14, 2015) - The law firm of Chisholm Chisholm & Kilpatrick LTD is pleased to announce that Zachary M. Stolz has been named partner. Zach Stolz joined the firm in 2007 and as a managing attorney, he was instrumental in the growth of CCK’s Veterans law practice. The firm is now one of the largest veterans law firms in the country and is responsible for many precedent-setting decisions that help millions of veterans.

Zach is nationally recognized for his record of court wins, which have influenced the legal landscape for veterans, including a particularly notable victory for military sexual trauma survivors at the U.S. Court of Appeals - AZ v. Shinseki – which now prevents the VA from denying claims based on a survivor’s failure to report an assault during service.

Zach has represented more than 2000 disabled veterans in federal court, including veterans of World War II, Vietnam, the Gulf War, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Zach has demonstrated a commitment to training and supporting the next generation of veterans’ advocates. He was instrumental in partnering CCK with Disabled American Veterans (DAV), one of the largest national veterans service organizations and Harvard Law School in launching the Veterans Legal Clinic at Harvard. He remains active with the clinic, lecturing and assisting students and faculty.

Zach serves on the Board of Directors for the National Organization for Veterans Advocates (NOVA) and the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims Bar Association, and is the vice chairman of the Veterans Committee for the Court of Appeals for the U.S. Court of Appeals, Federal Circuit’s Bar Association. As a result of his considerable expertise and experience, Zach is a frequent lecturer on veterans’ legal issues each year, across the country.

“Zach’s leadership inspires every single member of our team,” said CCK Partner Robert V. Chisholm, who served as Zach’s mentor. “He truly embodies CCK’s core values: integrity, respect, and results.”

For more information, click HERE.

Brief Notices

VA Benefits Claims Discussion on Feb. 19th

The Veterans Appeals Committee of the Federal Circuit Bar Association and the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims Bar Association will host a program entitled, “Veterans Benefits Claims: A Comprehensive Look at the Steps from Filing at the Regional Office through Federal Circuit Review.”

The program will take place on Thursday, February 19 from 3 to 4 p.m. at the offices of the Federal Circuit Bar Association, 1620 I Street, NW, Suite 801, Washington, DC 20006. CAVC Bar Association Members may also participate remotely via Webex offered by the Federal Circuit Bar Association.

Panelists: Hon. Todd M. Hughes, Circuit Judge, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit; James D. Ridgway, Chief Counsel for Policy and Procedure at the Board of Veterans’ Appeals (BVA); William Donnelly, Counsel to the BVA; Kristin L. Yohannan, Special Counsel, Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft LLP.

Zachary M. Stolz, partner at Chisholm Chisholm & Kilpatrick Ltd., will serve as moderator. The panelists will provide insight into how the VA and court appeals processes work, challenges facing adjudicators and practitioners, and the role pro bono advocacy plays in the appeals process.

For details, click HERE.


New IOM Study on Agent Orange Exposure

Between 1972 and 1982, approximately 1,500 to 2,100 U.S. Air Force (AF) Reserve personnel trained and worked on C-123 aircraft that previously had been used to spray herbicides, including Agent Orange (AO), during Operation Ranch Hand (ORH) in the Vietnam War. Samples taken from these aircraft show the presence of AO residues. However, VA considers AF Reservists who served in ORH C-123s ineligible for health care and disability coverage under the Agent Orange Act of 1991.

VA asked the Institute of Medicine (IOM) to evaluate whether service in ORH C-123s could have exposed AF Reservists to herbicide residues at levels harmful to their health. In Post-Vietnam Dioxin Exposure in Agent Orange–Contaminated C-123 Aircraft, an expert IOM committee presents its findings.

To read the IOM study online for free, click HERE.


Veterans Law Library Up and Running

VA officials have informed NOVA staff that the Veterans Law Library is up and running, after its migration to a new host. Once again, the library should be updated on a regular basis. If you visit the site and experience any problems, please send an email to the administrator address at the top of the home page.

To visit the site, go to Or, see ‘Links of Interest’ on NOVA’s Resources Page by clicking HERE.


New FDC Program Video Series Released

VA recently published a new, six-part video series that gives an in-depth overview of the Fully Developed Claim (FDC) Program. The series shares program qualifications and requirements, steps to apply, and important tips to keep in mind throughout the process.

"Promoting the FDC Program for disability compensation, pension, dependency and indemnity compensation, and survivors pension helps Veterans and surviving dependents receive the fastest decisions possible on their claims. Veterans are strongly encouraged to file their disability compensation claim online through eBenefits," VA states.

Find the latest FDC Program video series on the bottom of NOVA’s Resources Page by clicking HERE.


Are You in NOVA's Attorney/Advocate Directory?

The NOVA Attorney/Advocate Directory helps veterans find the resources they need.  If you haven't done so already this year, please take a moment to review your listing for accuracy.

If you'd like to make a change, please do so by clicking on the “Manage Your Profile” tab under the “My Profile Summary” box when you are logged into your member profile.

The “Manage Your Profile” page gives you the option to update all of your information (with the exception of usernames - which cannot be changed), including your password!  Simply enter your changes and click the “Save All Changes” button on the bottom of the page.

If your firm is located in more than one state, and you’d like to appear under both in searches, you have the option of providing a Secondary address!  That way, when veterans search for an attorney in your state, they’ll be sure to find you!

Remember, NOVA staff does not make changes to your Directory listing.  NOVA members must perform these periodic updates, so don't delay.  Veterans could be searching for you!


Renew Your NOVA Membership for 2015

Thanks to all of our members who have already renewed their NOVA memberships for the 2015 term!! The response has been terrific and we are excited about sharing another year together.

Not yet renewed for the New Year? Online membership renewal is fast and easy! To renew online NOW, click HERE.

If you prefer to mail your membership forms and payment, click HERE.


Purchase NOVA’s Webinar – Life in the Fast Lane

Looking for strategies to keep your client’s case moving in the right direction, whether it's on the way up the ladder or on remand down from the Court and Board? NOVA’s Winter Webinar - “Life in the Fast Lane” - is now available for purchase on our website!

Presented by NOVA Member Robert Chisholm – seasoned veterans law attorney at Chisholm, Chisholm & Kilpatrick – this webinar covers everything you need to know about fast tracking your client's VA claim within various levels of the complex claims process.

You’ll learn how to facilitate a claim for a homeless or terminally ill client as well as how to use a number of tactics to expedite remanded cases. The webinar also covers key strategies to get paid quickly following an award of benefits.

To purchase the “Life in the Fast Lane” Webinar on NOVA’s website, click HERE.


Reminder Re: Third-Party Use of NOVA Lists

NOVA staff would like to remind all members that the third-party use of NOVA lists for solicitation of sales or any other purpose is strictly prohibited. To protect your privacy, this policy extends to the use of NOVA members’ names, telephone numbers, physical addresses, email addresses, and so forth.

NOVA staff compiles, maintains, and uses various mailing lists to communicate with members regarding NOVA business and activities, only. Official NOVA mail is always easily identifiable by our registered logo, name and mission statement. NOVA staff does not share your personal information with others.

Should you receive third-party solicitations, please be advised that NOVA neither endorses nor supports those who send these messages. Recipients of unsolicited mail may wish to ‘unsubscribe’ from such lists by selecting that option (if provided) or otherwise contacting the sender.

NOVA takes the unauthorized use of its lists by third parties very seriously. As a courtesy to all, please adhere to the policy set forth by NOVA leadership and respect the privacy of others. Thank you in advance for your cooperation.


Two VA FAST Letters Rescinded, One Added

VA has rescinded these FAST Letters:

- FL 12-18, Final Rule: Dental Conditions, rescinded due to its incorporation into M21-1MR IX.ii.2.
- FL 13-17, Processing Fully Developed Original Claims Received from August 6, 2013 through August 5, 2015, rescinded due to its incorporation into M21-1MR III.i.3.B.

Also, FL 14-15, Fiscal Year 2015 National Training Curriculum for Fiduciary Hub and Manila Regional Office Fiduciary Personnel, is now posted on NOVA's Document Library. To view FL 14-15, click HERE.


What’s Trending on the NOVA Forums?

Check out the Information Exchange and find out what NOVA members are talking about! Just log in to our website using your user name and password and click on ‘NOVA Forums’ on the home page.

The NOVA Forums are a safe and secure place to share information with your peers. It’s like having exclusive access to a virtual law office of experts – 24/7. Many NOVA members consider the Forums to be an invaluable, online resource.

To date, NOVA members have posted more than 2,000 topics and received more than 3,600 replies. Chances are that if you’ve got a question, someone in the NOVA community has an answer, or a good suggestion of where to find one.

Here are the topics trending right now on the Information Exchange:

Education loan waiver, Appeal to the Federal Circuit, Redundant submissions to the Evidence Intake Center, Camp Lejeune law change, Waco Texas Fee Coordinator/DRO, faxing to Evidence Center, Proposed rule: assets and transfers, VA Home Loan and VA taking disability pay to recoup, VBMS training, PTSD stressors during active duty for training, FOIA requests, Maryland CNC test for hearing, and Appeal after remand from BVA.

Why not join the conversation? Your colleagues are waiting to hear from you!!


NOVA Welcomes New and Returning Members!

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

Anjelika Abrahamyan Mattar LLC, Buffalo, NY
Katelyn Atwood
South Royalton Legal Clinic, South Royalton, VT
Karen BillLaw Offices of Karen Kraus Bill, LLC, Columbia, MO
Peter CameronLaw Offices of Peter S. Cameron, APC, San Diego, CA
Christina ClaussMaurice Abarr Law Firm, Santa Ana, CA
Ciara ColemanBerry Law Firm, Lincoln, NE
Mike Conklin – North Dakota Department of Veterans Affairs, Fargo ND
Carrie Couture – Military Officers Association of America, Alexandria, VA
Jill DraughonHughes & Coleman, Bowling Green, KY
Bonnie Freeman – Freeman & Freeman, St. Petersburg, FL
Jean Gage – Art Gage Law, Tucson, AZ
Karen Gianas – Art Gage Law, Tucson, AZ
Tiffany GilmartinLaw Office of Tiffany Gilmartin, San Diego, CA
Michael Haller Haller Law, PC, LLO, Omaha, NE
Pamela Harms – Scott Suzuki Law Firm, Honolulu, HI
David Hlatky – Penn State Dickinson Law, Dillsburg, PA
Carly IddingsThe Elder Law and Estate Planning Firm of Jonathan S. Frank, Charlotte, NC
Timothy KlobKlob Law Firm, LLC, Loganville, GA
Floretta LeavyVA, Rockford, IL
Jamey LebovitzKlob Law Firm, LLC, Loganville, GA
Patti LerdaMartin and Lerda, Pittsburgh, PA
Pi-Yi MayoLaw Office of Pi-Yi Mayo, Baytown, TX
Gary MorrisMorris Law, Bradenton, FL
Joseph NugentJoseph Nugent Attorney at Law, Hobart, IN
Vincent PastoreFinkelstein & Partners. LLP, Newburgh, NY
Krista PeckynoWESCO Distribution, Inc., Pittsburgh, PA
Amanda Pertusati - Public Law Center, Santa Ana, CA
Meghan Perry – Art Gage Law, Tucson, AZ
Laura Pflugfelde – Veterans Law Group, La Jolla, CA
Olie PopeTravis County Veterans Service Office, Austin, TX
Patty Roberts – William & Mary Law School Lewis B. Puller, Jr. Veterans Benefits Clinic, Williamsburgh, VA
Alexandro RodriquezCommunity Legal Services of Mid-Florida, Orlando, FL
Risa RohrbergerCahn & Rohrberger LLC, Glen Rock, NJ
Richard Rousseau – Harker Heights, TX
Thomas ScullyThomas J. Scully III & Associates, LLC, Munster, IN
Patricia ServaesSudbury, MA
Debi SilverWinter Haven, FL
Timothy SirhalWilkes & McHugh, PA, Philadelphia, PA
Michael G. SmithDover Dixon Horne, PLLC, Little Rock, AR
Nicole SteinhausShook & Stone, Chtd., Las Vegas, NV
Kelly Sullivan – Community Legal Services of Mid-FL, Daytona Beach, FL
Roger TaylorRoger Taylor, Esq. LLC, Maple Grove, MN
Grace WeatherlyWood, Thacker & Weatherly, P.C., Denton, TX
Krista Weida – Blaugrund, Kessler, Myers & Postalakis, Inc., Worthington, OH
Carol WuTrustCare Fiduciary Services, Pleasant Hill, CA
Robert ZentzHenderson, NV



Past Newsletters

To read other editions of our Veterans' Advocate Insider, please click HERE.