The National Organization of Veterans’ Advocates, Inc. (NOVA) recognized the lifetime achievement of two of its longtime members and past presidents – Robert V. Chisholm and Michael R. Viterna – with induction into the NOVA Hall of Honor. Both attorneys accepted the honor at NOVA’s spring conference in Las Vegas this month.
A national, nonprofit educational organization, NOVA provides specialized training for attorneys and accredited agents who assist military veterans with appeals for disability benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The Hall of Honor commemorates NOVA members who have demonstrated extraordinary service and leadership on behalf of our nation’s disabled veterans.
Mr. Chisholm served as NOVA president from December 1999 to August 2004. During his presidency and beyond, Mr. Chisholm testified before the House and Senate Veterans Affairs Committees on a variety of legislation affecting veterans. It was during this testimony that NOVA introduced the idea that veterans should be given a choice of representation at the administrative or VA level.
With his sight set on amending the public law recognizing agents and attorneys (38 U.S.C. § 5904), Mr. Chisholm stepped down as NOVA president to devote his time to that endeavor. For more than two years, he and other advocates pushed for the repeal of certain limitations on attorney representation of VA claimants, until Congress finally amended the law in December 2006.
On June 20, 2007, The Veterans Benefits, Health Care, and Information Technology Act of 2006 (Section 101 of Public Law 109-461) took effect. The rule change allowed veterans to hire attorneys to represent them much earlier in the VA’s claims process, after the first denial of benefits by VA. It also permitted attorneys to charge reasonable fees for their representation.
Mr. Chisholm practices law at Chisholm, Chisholm & Kilpatrick, Ltd. in Providence, R.I. He has represented hundreds of veterans before the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims and VA since 1990. He has also represented veterans before the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. Mr. Chisholm received NOVA’s Kenneth M. Carpenter Achievement Award for Excellence in 2008. He is a frequent featured speaker on veterans’ law at NOVA conferences and elsewhere.
Mr. Viterna served as NOVA president from July 2011 to December 2015. During this time, in April 2013, NOVA marked its twentieth anniversary by hosting a black-tie gala just outside the nation’s capital. The first of its kind for NOVA, the event drew hundreds of advocates for disabled veterans, including many dignitaries. During Mike’s leadership, membership in NOVA grew substantially as the VA’s inability to fulfill our nation’s promise to care for disabled veterans became a national scandal.
Throughout his presidency, Mr. Viterna sought reforms in the VA’s broken claims system, appearing before Congress to address the agency’s most crippling challenges. These included the transition of veterans’ records from paper to electronic files. He also fought hard for NOVA members to gain easy access to the VA’s electronic veterans’ files.
Mr. Viterna has practiced veterans’ law for nearly 21 years. He is the founder and owner of Viterna Law in Belleville, Mich., dedicated to assisting veterans and their families appeal the VA’s denial of benefits. Viterna Law is a recognized participant in the CVA/NOVA Pro Bono Advocates Program, which provides free legal services to homeless veterans.
Before his practice of veterans’ law, Mr. Viterna spent 33 years as a medic in the U. S. Air Force, retiring with the rank of Chief Master Sergeant. Just prior to his military retirement, he entered law school and was admitted into practice in 1995.
Previous inductees into the NOVA Hall of Honor are William G. Smith, Keith D. Snyder and Kenneth M. Carpenter – all of whom are credited with founding the organization in 1993, along with past NOVA Presidents Theodore P. Jarvi and Wade Bosley.