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Funding Legal Assistance Pays off for NY’s Vets

by Logan Campbell November 11, 2019

The City Bar Justice Center’s Veterans Assistance Project Director, Kent Eiler, recently wrote an Op-Ed in the Gotham Gazette entitled New York to DC:  Pay Your Bill for Your Veterans. In the Op-Ed, Kent argues New York and its leaders must demand that the federal government, through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), provide New York veterans with the VA benefits to which they are entitled. Doing so, would not only have a life-changing impact on veterans and their families, but also alleviate the financial burden for caring for low-income, disabled veterans currently falling on New York taxpayers. In making his case, Kent references a report released by the New York City Bar Association, which details the disparity between the amount of New York City veterans receiving service connected disability compensation (16%) and their national counterparts (22%) and discusses how increased financial support for VA benefits focused legal services would help correct this inequity.

The impact of such legal services is evident in the experiences of Veterans Assistance Project’s (VAP) clients, for whom legal representation can be life-changing. For example, Mr. L, a disabled Army veteran with no income and struggling with homelessness, came to VAP in 2013 seeking assistance with applying for VA Disability Compensation. While stationed overseas, Mr. L was injured by heavy equipment, which resulted in a traumatic brain injury (TBI). In 2012, Mr. L filed a claim with the VA for TBI, but was denied because the VA argued that his condition was not connected to his time in the service.

With rigorous advocacy from his pro bono attorney and legal support from VAP, finally, in late 2018, Mr. L was granted the life-changing benefits his service disability warranted—over $174,000 in retroactive benefits. Mr. L now receives $2,906 every month, which will likely continue for the rest of his life.

Without more funding for VA benefits focused legal services, veterans like Mr. L – who have given everything to their country – will still be income and housing insecure. As one VAP client put it, after getting a successful decision, “Saying thank you isn’t enough. I’d still be fighting for the correct benefits if it weren’t for VAP.”

On Veterans Day especially, we must remember that there are thousands of poor disabled veterans in our city that struggle to make ends meet every day, after putting their life on the line for their country. Investing in legal advocacy is crucial to securing our veterans the benefits they deserve.

Logan Campbell is the Project Coordinator for the City Bar Justice Center’s Veterans Assistance Project.

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