George Mason University Antonin Scalia Law School

M-VETS Prevails at Board of Veterans’ Appeals Hearing Increasing Veteran’s Disability Rating and Securing New Benefits for an Additional Service-Connected Condition

(Pictured: M-VETS Student Advisors, Doug Boyle, Olivia Sznaza)

A 2016 claim for Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA) benefits was finally granted at the 40% payment rate after nearly six years of litigation with the DVA.  M-VETS successfully argued at a personal appearance hearing before the Board of Veterans’ Appeals (BVA) for its client to receive a DVA disability rating of 40% for his lumbar spine condition. Further, M-VETS was able to service-connect a secondary disability which raised the veterans disability rating to 70% overall.  As a result, the veteran should receive almost $1,800 a month for the rest of his life.

M-VETS filed the claim on behalf of a United States Army veteran who physically injured his lower back while on active duty.  Following his retirement from the Army, the veteran applied for disability compensation and was awarded a 60% rating for his lumbar spine condition.   In 2016, the veteran received a proposed rating reduction from the DVA stating that his rating would be lowered to 10% due to a clear and unmistakable error (CUE) on the part of the DVA.  After receiving this news, the veteran contacted M-VETS for assistance.

“M-VETS has stood behind me over the years in my appeal process,” the veteran said. “They assisted me in filing motions and preparing my case to be heard at the Board of Veterans Appeals. Great group of people.”

M-VETS Director, Timothy M. MacArthur, stated about the matter: “I’m glad the veteran reached out to M-VETS and that we were able to correct this issue.  The correction of this issue took a lot longer than we originally anticipated and I appreciate our clients’ patience and perseverance throughout this process.”

M-VETS originally filed an appeal to the 10% designation asking the DVA to award the veteran 40% for this condition.  The DVA denied this request and M-VETS filed a brief before the BVA and requested a personal appearance in order to argue the matter in front of a Judge.  At the BVA hearing, M-VETS argued that the reduction to 10% was not supported by the evidence of record and the veteran should be entitled to 40% for his lumbar spine condition.

Due to the lengthy process involved with litigating this issue, many M-VETS Student-Advisors (SAs) worked diligently on this matter while in the clinic. When the matter was scheduled for hearing, it was former M-VETS SA Doug Boyle who argued the motion before the BVA.

“Participating in the BVA hearing required a tremendous amount of preparation,” Boyle said.  “I had to familiarize myself with the case’s history and facts as well as the relevant laws and regulations. I also communicated with the client on a weekly (and ultimately daily) basis via telephone and Zoom to prepare him for his participation in the hearing. Going through this preparation and participating in a real-world hearing was an invaluable experience that I will heavily rely on post-graduation. I am beyond happy that we got a positive result for our client!”

“Doug did a great job arguing the motion and presenting evidence during the hearing,” MacArthur commented. “Our client was able to attend the hearing virtually and Doug conducted an opening statement, direct examination, and closing argument which greatly assisted the Judge in determining the favorable outcome for our client,” MacArthur continued. “The DVA benefits process is paternalistic in nature which is invaluable for allowing our students to gain practical experience in a non-adversarial setting.”

M-VETS continued to work with the veteran to claim benefits related to the veteran’s service-connected radiculopathy. This condition was developed secondarily to the veteran’s lumbar spine condition. M-VETS filed a disability claim with the DVA for this condition and, on 13 June 2022, the DVA decided that the veteran’s service-connected radiculopathy was worthy of a 20% rating.

Current SA Olivia Sznaza was able to provide the veteran with the results of M-VETS efforts and see the matter through to completion with the addition of radiculopathy as a service-connected condition.

“Delivering such positive, life-changing news to the veteran is the type of outcome that we are always working towards for our clients at M-VETS,” Sznaza reflected. “It has been both an honor and a privilege to work alongside the veteran and fellow M-VETS colleagues over the past two months to play my own small part in bringing about this tremendous end result.”

“This was a long process and fortunately our client was able to weather the storm to see this through,” MacArthur said. “I am really pleased with the outcome and want to thank our Student-Advisors for the wonderful job they did on this matter as well as our client for working with us the last six years.”

M-VETS assists veterans, servicemembers, and their dependents in a variety of civil matters, including uncontested divorces, landlord/tenant matters, consumer protection and contract disputes, as well as in military/VA administrative matters, including MEB/PEBs, discharge upgrades, Boards for Correction of Military Records and VA disability compensation appeals.