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February 2014 | Grants Newsletter

Fighting for Veterans

Lawyer volunteers meet with a disabled veteran from the Korean War as he files a claim for benefits. Photo by Ari Mintz

Long after serving in the military, many veterans are fighting a new battle—to claim benefits. Though disabled vets are entitled to disability benefits, filing the mountain of paperwork with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs can take years. New York attorneys are working pro bono to make it easier.

Since 2008, the Veterans Assistance Program has hosted clinics in which lawyers are trained and paired with veterans. Then they dive into the paperwork. 

To date, they have helped more than 500 impoverished veterans receive about $2 million in claims, in part by helping them prove a physical or mental disability is connected to their military service.

The Trust has supported the program since the beginning—with a total of $145,000 to the New York City Bar Association.

Initially, most of the clients were injured in Vietnam combat. These days, more veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan are seeking help. They either can’t work or can’t make enough to support themselves.

“Many cite post-traumatic stress syndrome or traumatic brain injury, while a surprising number are dealing with trauma from sexual assault during service,” says the Association’s executive director, Lynn Kelly.

Some are transients or nearly homeless, and one challenge is tracking them down at different steps in the filing process. When the claims finally are approved, veterans receive an average of $1,500 a month to cover needs like housing, along with a check for retroactive benefits since the initial claim.

Although the cases grind on, they’re rewarding for the lawyers, some of whom also are veterans. The lawyers “have respect for the patriotism of those who served,” Kelly says, “and they want to give back.”

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