Many veterans don’t know that they can get a free attorney to help them appeal a veterans benefits claim denial at the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims. The Veterans Consortium Pro Bono Program (www.vetsprobono.org) is a nonprofit organization that provides free attorneys to any veteran or survivor with a viable case for benefits at the court. If you could consider sharing this story with your members, it would help other veterans find out about how they can get help. Perhaps you have an e-newsletter, a printed newsletter, a website, a Facebook page, or a blog where you could share this story and let other veterans know about this free program that can help. Thanks for your time and consideration.
Two Generations of Vietnam Veterans in the Same Family Fight for Justice: And Win
The Veterans Consortium Pro Bono Program provides free, volunteer attorneys to represent veterans appealing their benefits denials to the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims
Mr. McManus, a career Air Force noncommissioned officer, had served in Vietnam from 1966 to 1967. In 1985, he filed a claim for benefits for diabetes and an award under the Nehmer decision that awarded disability benefits to Vietnam veterans suffering from illnesses scientifically linked to Agent Orange exposure. Sadly, he succumbed to complications from diabetes and heart disease in 1991, while his claim was still pending.
His son, also a Vietnam veteran (he served in Vietnam as an Army medic from 1970 to 1971), decided to pursue his father’s claim himself. "I started by getting a computer and surfing the Web,” he recalls. For five years, from 2004 to 2009, Mr. McManus filed all the briefs for his appeal pro se, again and again hearing that his father’s diabetes was not a condition that was eligible for benefits. Again and again, he looked for counsel who might help him appeal the VA denials, without success. "No one got back to me, or they didn’t do this kind of work.”
For more than five years, he painstakingly filed his own claims, enduring rejection after rejection from the VA.
What could have been another in a long list of discouraging events instead became a turning point, when he appealed the case to the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims: "That’s when the judge said it would be better if an attorney handled things for me at this point.” The Court issued an order requesting the Veterans Consortium Pro Bono Program (www.vetsprobono.org) investigate the possibility of representing Mr. McManus. The program responded to the Court’s order, evaluated Mr. McManus’s case, and assigned a volunteer attorney to represent him.
"When [the Pro Bono Program volunteer attorney] got on board it was like a whole weight was lifted off me,” Mr. McManus says of the moment his attorney took over his appeal for the accrued benefits and an Agent Orange award owed his late father. "The Pro Bono people organized things really well. They took my thoughts and made them go from regular TV to high-def.”
After reviewing the case files, Mr. McManus’ attorney determined that the Board of Veterans Appeals had erred in finding that his father did not have diabetes after its own regional office had determined that he did. The Board had also been wrong to contend that the Agent Orange award law did not apply, ruling that the elder Mr. McManus had had no claim pending when he died. In fact, the late Mr. McManus had filed a timely claim.
In light of the volunteer attorney’s arguments, substantiated by VA’s own records, the Court reversed the Board—a rare occurrence (most cases are remanded).
"I could not have asked for a better ending,” says Mr. McManus, now 61. "We’re not quite through, but I was very pleased with how the Pro Bono people came in and took things to the next level. Being a veteran, this mattered a lot to me—and I hope it will be a case that others will see and can use.”
The Veterans Consortium Pro Bono Program provides free, volunteer attorneys to represent veterans appealing their benefits denials to the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims. Learn more at www.vetsprobono.org.