Veterans Organization That's Helped 100k Honors Congressman, Founder
The National Veterans Legal Services Program has worked pro bono to help veterans obtain more than $4.5B in benefits since it was founded in 1980. At the Mayflower recently, the seventh annual benefit reception honored Rep. Jeff Miller, David Addlestone, General Electric and Sidley Austin.
"We need to replace the VA's culture of complacency with one of accountability," said Rep. Jeff Miller. He was honored with the Sen. Daniel K. Inouye Award, presented by emcee and former CNN correspondent Jeanne Meserve. Rep. Miller chairs the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs, making him responsible for oversight of the troubled Department of Veterans Affairs.
Through the ongoing VA scandal, Rep. Miller has been a key voice holding the VA responsible, says NVLSP, and has sponsored legislation including the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act and the Veterans Affairs Retaliation Prevention Act. The federal government's second-largest department, the VA has more than 340,000 employees and a $160B budget.
NVLSP's benefit reception raised more than $480k. Here, the honorees alongside NVLSP executive directors Bart Stichman (second from left) and Ron Abrams (right): Sidley attorney Emily Wexler, who coordinates the firm's Veterans Benefits Project, accepting the Pro Bono Partner of the Year award on the firm's behalf; NVLSP co-founder David Addlestone accepting the Lifetime Achievement Award; General Electric Chief Security Officer Art Cummings on behalf of GE, winner of the Corporate Leadership Award; and Rep. Miller.
Emily said that Sidley is "committed for the long haul." Sidley's cases for veterans—some of which date back to the 1980s—range from class-actions to representations of individual veterans. When NVLSP's Lawyers Serving Warriors program was created, Sidley hired Emily to work full-time to grow and develop veterans benefits cases. The firm's worked on more than 150 legal matters for veterans, service members and their families.
There are about 24 million veterans in the US. Of the cases NVLSP appeals, 90% see a reversal of previously denied claims or the case sent back for further review.
Here, David accepts NVLSP's inaugural Lifetime Achievement Award. David has spent his entire professional career fighting for veteran's rights (often a David vs. Goliath fight, as Bart and David mentioned). Among his victories: helping some of the 690,000 Vietnam veterans who were discharged less than honorably (which often deprived them of work and VA benefits) and training fellow lawyers to represent them; representing decorated combat veteran David Matlovich in a landmark '70 lawsuit against the Air Force's ability to discharge service members for being gay; successfully advocating for the repeal of a law prohibiting paid attorney representation before the VA, and for the creation a new court—the US Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims—to review VA denial of benefits; and successfully litigating a challenge to VA regulations mandating denial of claims over Agent Orange exposure—resulting in more than $4B in such claims paid out from the VA.
We snapped David hugging his wife as the crowd rose around them for a standing ovation. NVLSP has won historic suits, such as the Sabo class-action that approved lifetime benefits for thousands of veterans discharged due to PTSD.
Last year, the NVLSP launched a new program to address the needs of veterans who have experienced military sexual trauma—estimated by the VA to be 25% of women and 1% of men serving in the Armed Forces. This year, the organization increased its focus on disability benefits for mental health disorders.
Legal Services Corp GC and NVLSP board chairman Ron Flagg, right, presented the Corporate Leadership Award award to GE Chief Security Officer Art Cummings. Art's a former Navy SEAL of eight years who went on to join the FBI and Bridgewater before GE. We learned that nearly one in 13 US-based GE employees are veterans. The 340,000-person company made a commitment in 2011 to hire 5,000 veterans over the next five years, and completed the goal within four years.
We snapped NVLSP development director Ana Reyes bookended by retired WilmerHale partner and longtime NVLSP board member Jim Harwood and retired Staff Sgt. Eric Adams, a veteran of deployments during the first Gulf War and in 2003 in Kuwait. After a car collision in Kuwait that caused Eric chronic, debilitating migraines and degenerative disc disease, the NVLSP helped him obtain sufficient medical benefits. In a video shown during the program, Eric said, "I would like to say a sincere 'Thank you' to the lawyers for your commitment to us." He received a standing ovation.
NVLSP staff attorney Tom Moore, the program director of Lawyers Serving Warriors (which gives pro bono legal help to veterans with disability issues), Sidley associate Jeff Beelaert, and NVLSP co-founder Bart Stichman. Jeff, a US Naval Academy graduate and former US Marine Corps Captain, spent eight years in the Marines and served in Iraq during combat operations. He's now co-chair of the advisory council to NVLSP.