By Debbie Gregory.
The VA, the American Bar Association (ABA) and the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) are uniting to form a new partnership and pilot program to facilitate eliminating the backlog of Veteran disability pay claims.
The new partnership was announced at the Convocation on the Legal Needs of Military Families and Veterans at the ABA Annual Meeting in San Francisco. The program provides free assistance from ABA and LSC attorneys to a targeted group of unrepresented veterans who request their help in filing disability claims.
William A. Gunn, a retired Air Force colonel, was sworn in as general counsel of the Department of Veterans Affairs in 2009. Prior to his confirmation, he had a private practice in Northern Virginia, representing military and veterans.
According to Gunn, the VA needs to be modernized, and he wants to be part of that transformation. Gunn has called for modernizing information technology so that veterans can more easily file claims, and have a better sense of their status. As general counsel, he will make sure his lawyers are briefed on the latest laws.
One of Gun’s biggest challenges is developing new ways to communicate with the VA attorneys who work in 22 regional offices.
“The backlog in Veterans’ claims is unacceptable,” said Gunn. “We are anxious to partner with these organizations and with lawyers all over the country.”
Gunn pointed out that three of the top ten needs of homeless and near-homeless veterans — eviction, child support and outstanding fines and warrants — are legal needs.
The development of the claim is often the longest part of the process that determines whether a veteran is entitled to VA compensation, often taking more than 200 days. The pilot program will offer pro bono attorney assistance to veterans who do not currently have representation, with claims pending at the St. Petersburg, Fla., and Chicago regional offices. Veterans with claims pending at other VA regional offices may also be considered for the program.
Claims more than 125 days old will be selected for this pilot program. Claims will vary in terms of complexity and degree of completeness. The VA will accredit the attorneys who choose to participate, the ABA and LSC will provide them with specialized training, and they will be added to the ABA’s Veterans’ Claims Assistance Network. The two initial pilot sites were selected based on proximity to ABA headquarters (Chicago) and the opportunity for the biggest impact on the backlog (St. Petersburg).
In coming months, the VA will identify eligible veterans to participate in the pilot program and advise them of all their options for representation — Veterans Service Organizations, claims agents, and pro bono attorneys participating in the pilot program.
Under the partnership, the ABA and LSC will match interested Veterans and attorneys on several factors, including geographic location, complexity of the claim and the Veteran and attorney’s preferences on the scope of representation.