After surviving the horrors of the front lines in Iraq and Afghanistan, many US service members have returned home only to fight a new battle. Their combat experiences are being replayed in nightmares, resulting in extreme insomnia and deep anxiety, affecting their ability to perform day-to-day functions and interact with strangers, colleagues and loved ones. The US military has diagnosed many of these military members with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and declared them unfit for military service. In discharging them, however, the military failed to classify them as temporarily or permanently disabled, thus denying them access to important disability benefits.
For many of our clients, the importance of these cases isn't about the money, it is about the recognition that their condition is deserving of the military benefit.
Matt Frutig, Associate, Washington, DC
In 2008, the National Veterans Legal Services Program (NVLSP) filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of more than 2,000 veterans claiming they were systematically denied the full amount of disability benefits required by law. In 2011, a favorable settlement was reached guaranteeing disability benefits for these veterans.
bicycles donated to the children of US military families
Even after the settlement, however, more work remained to access these newly won benefits. Combat Related Special Compensation (CRSC), for example, is a benefit available to veterans who are on permanent disability retirement who can provide documentary evidence that their injuries were caused in combat. Established by statute, CRSC requires eligible veterans to submit applications to a military review board. If the board determines that the veteran meets CRSC criteria, the veteran receives additional disability compensation.
Before joining White & Case in our Washington, DC office in 2011, associate Matt Frutig worked for NVLSP on the class action lawsuit. While there, Matt witnessed the uphill battle veterans face in obtaining benefits and the importance of having a trained advocate assist them through the process. Matt saw an opportunity for White & Case, in partnership with NVLSP, to play such a role. In collaboration with Maury Mechanick, counsel and an experienced advocate for veterans in claims before the Veterans Affairs Administration, and Norm Fry, counsel with more than 20 years' experience in the US Navy, Matt arranged for White & Case to represent an initial group of 26 veterans applying for CRSC. Support throughout the office for the CRSC project was strong, with more than 25 lawyers signing up to participate.
From their combined experience, Matt, Maury and Norm recognized the need to train our lawyers in military procedures and resources. They developed training materials on negotiating the complexities of veterans' benefits law and drafting CRSC applications in the required military parlance. Prior to assigning cases, the team shared these materials at continuing legal education presentations, and continued to work one-on-one with the lawyers to implement these ideas and best practices throughout the application process.
Since March 2012, our lawyers have submitted 20 CRSC applications on behalf of our clients, 16 of which have received full or partial CRSC approval, guaranteeing each of them additional monthly disability compensation and a one-time payment of retroactive CRSC pay.
"For many of our clients, the importance of these cases isn't about the money, it is about the recognition that their condition is deserving of the military benefit," said Matt.
ASSISTING VETERANS TRANSITIONING TO CIVILIAN LIFE
Collaborating with Bank of America and the City Bar Justice Center, White & Case lawyers in New York advised veterans on legal challenges they face in civilian life. Over several months, our lawyers advised Bank of America on the formation of its Volunteer Lawyers for Veterans legal clinic initiative and then joined in-house lawyers from Bank of America to staff ongoing clinics. The volunteers conduct interviews with veterans on legal issues that arise once they retire from the military. We also partnered with the City Bar Justice Center's Veterans Assistance Project to meet with disabled veterans in a clinic at the City Bar. Our lawyers then represent those disabled veterans in applying to the US Department of Veterans Affairs on claims for disability benefits.
HELPING THE MILITARY BY HELPING THEIR FAMILIES
The White & Case New York office works with the United Service Organization (USO) to build and give away bicycles to the children of active duty military members through the USO Bike Build & Giveaway Program. Our interest in the bike initiative came about after hearing many service members say that the best way to help them is to help their families. Over several "Bike Build" events, lawyers from our New York office and our new associates from across the United States assembled more than 350 bikes for the children of US military members.