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The Veterans Assistance Project Launches Initiative to Address Veterans Service Gaps in NYC

by Logan Campbell April 16, 2020

After studying the gap between what veterans in New York City should be receiving in terms of disability payments and what they actually obtain, the City Bar Justice Center’s Veterans Assistance Project (VAP) has been active in addressing this injustice on a number of fronts. Thanks to the support of The New York Community Trust and the Mother Cabrini Health Foundation, VAP launched an initiative advocating for more trained attorneys taking on veterans disability work. This initiative will enable the Project to work with other nonprofit organizations to expand the City’s ability to handle benefits cases from the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs (VA).

A report from the New York City Bar Association’s Military and Veterans Affairs, Disability Law, and Social Welfare Law committees highlighted that New York State’s and New York City’s veterans are not getting their fair share of VA benefits. When this report was published, less than 17 percent of New York veterans and veteran families were receiving VA benefits. In New York City, that number was only 15.5 percent. By contrast, in California, 25 percent of veterans and veterans’ families receive these benefits. In Texas, 29 percent of veterans and their families receive VA benefits. While the exact percentage of veterans entitled to VA benefits in New York is uncertain, the fact that less than 17 percent of New York’s veterans receive these benefits is deeply troubling in light of available statistics. For example, a Rand Corporation study conducted in 2008 estimated that nearly 20 percent of military service members who returned from Iraq and Afghanistan—300,000 in all—reported symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder or major depression. Further, on a national level, 23 to 24 percent of all veterans receive VA benefits. While estimates vary considerably, it is generally believed that between 30 and 50 percent of veterans have some type of service-connected health issue that entitles them to VA benefits. It defies credulity to think that so many of New York’s veterans somehow escaped the mental and physical traumas of military service. If 23 to 24 percent of New York’s veterans and veterans’ families received VA benefits instead of the current rate of 17 percent, it would mean more than 50,000 additional veterans and families statewide would be receiving life-changing VA benefits and would bring this infusion of federal funding into struggling low-income households.

With public interest legal service organizations in New York City receiving new and expanded funding to serve veterans, VAP recognized a need for technical assistance to help new lawyers navigate law in the veterans practice area. VAP, with its longstanding and effective focus on helping low-income veterans obtain the VA benefits, is uniquely situated to fill this role. Because of the life-changing benefits at stake, it is vital to grow and encourage new public interest practitioners in this field. It is not uncommon that appeals of VA benefit denials take years to be adjudicated by the VA, which means that the feedback loop on advocacy can take several years. In this environment, to build capacity for effective advocacy, new public interest practitioners need support to be able to effectively and competently work in this new practice area.

To accomplish the goal of successfully equipping the next generation of veterans advocates, VAP is offering technical assistance to all attorneys in the legal services community that are interested. Work has started on a manual and quarterly meetings are being held with nonprofit community members who have begun developing projects to serve vets. In addition, VAP’s biweekly grand rounds calls with Project Director Kent Eiler has been expanded to provide technical assistance to the nonprofits interested in this new area of practice. VAP continues to collaborate with City Bar committees around advocacy to serve more veterans including various discussions around veterans’ right to counsel.

Logan Campbell is the Project Coordinator for the Veterans Assistance Project.

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