A Virginia congressman has urged the secretary of Veterans Affairs to partner with pro bono law students to try to clear the backlog of veterans’ claims.
As of June 10, Veterans Affairs reported 816,839 pending compensation claims for service-related disabilities as the agency continues to come under fire for sluggish processing that has left wounded warriors waiting for months on end for any claims resolution.
Sixty-six percent of current outstanding claims are considered backlogged — pending for more than 125 days.
Rep. Rob Wittman (R-Va.) told VA Secretary Eric Shinseki in a letter last week that a partnership with law school clinics can lend a needed hand to veterans bogged down in the claims process.
Wittman wrote that the VA should “explore ways to formally partner with pro bono law school veterans clinics nationwide to leverage the incredible efforts of these higher education institutions, on behalf of our nation’s veterans, to reduce the VA claims process strain.”
“As you know, our nation’s veterans face a claims backlog that delays benefits and care while the stressed claims system spends extraordinary effort to acquire supporting documentation for claims. The current practice often manifests itself in an even longer appeals process. A partnership that allows pro bono law clinics inside the claims process could have profound positive effects on the speed and accuracy of veterans’ claims processing,” the congressman continued.
He noted the success of the Lewis B. Puller, Jr. Veterans Benefits Clinic at William and Mary Law School and the associated Helping Military Veterans through Higher Education Consortium in guiding vets through the claims process can serve as a “template” for a broader partnership program.
“The efforts of these clinics can lead to claims that are filed in a more comprehensive manner when they are submitted at the beginning of the process. A formal partnership with the VA and relationships with regional offices that allow the clinics inside the claims process would allow the pro bono lawyers to research and acquire necessary documentation as claims are being adjudicated, increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of the claims process and preventing the lengthy appeal situation that many of our veterans face,” Wittman wrote.
Law schools in California, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, North Carolina, New York, Ohio, South Carolina, Texas, Virginia, Wisconsin, and West Virginia currently operate law clinics to help veterans.
“I ask that you consider creating a formal relationship that allows pro bono law school veterans clinics inside the VA claims process to improve services to veterans across our nation,” Wittman added. “The Puller Clinic and HMVHE can also serve as a Center of Excellence to help educate and train law schools nationwide to coordinate with the VA and support the veterans to whom we all owe a debt of gratitude. The unique services of these clinics have the potential to greatly increase the efficiency and accuracy of the VA claims process and ultimately benefit veterans.”