Law school clinics may reduce VA backlog on veteran disability benefits

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By Debbie Gregory.

Veteran Dustin Allison was badly wounded when the armored vehicle he was riding in struck an improvised explosive device in Iraq. The driver of the armored vehicle was killed. Allison has suffered with the repercussions of the explosion ever since. He has struggled, along with thousands of others, to navigate the Veterans Administration’s benefits claims process.

The Veterans Administration says that 60% of benefit claims filed by veterans take more than 125 days to process. Veterans are saying that it takes longer than that. The VA is requesting $2.6 billion to improve the benefits process. The additional funds are expected to speed-up the process by increasing staff, improving business practices and applying information technology enhancements.

Allison chose to attend business and law school at the College of William & Mary in 2008, and he became one of the school’s first clients for a veteran’s benefits legal clinic its law school was starting.

William & Mary College’s connections to the military date back to its earliest days when George Washington received his first surveyor’s license through the college. After the Revolutionary War, Washington became its first American chancellor. William & Mary Law School prides itself on its long service to the nation. The Veterans Benefits Clinic is another demonstration of William & Mary’s commitment to its community.

The clinic uses law students and faculty members on a pro bono basis to aid veterans having difficulty providing evidence to sustain their claims. The clinic takes on difficult cases such as post-traumatic stress disorder resulting from either warfare or sexual assault.

Congress members see William & Mary as a national model for inexpensively dealing with the Veterans Administration’s benefit backlog.

The director of clinical programs at William & Mary law school is hoping more law schools across the country will follow their example to help ease the Veterans Administration Benefit’s backlog.

U. S. Sen. Mark Warner, D-VA is urging his fellow senators to work with law schools in their states to create similar legal clinics. He is also prodding VA Secretary Eric Shinseki to help move the process along.  Warner has already contacted 10 law schools, including those at the University of Pennsylvania, University of Colorado and Oregon State.

U. S. Sens. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn, and Chris Murphy, D-Conn., have introduced a bill that authorizes the VA to provide additional funding to law school programs that provide legal assistance to veterans.

Hopefully, these law clinics will help veterans with disability backlog issues get through the benefit backlog quickly.