Gulf War Syndrome: A Condition Felt By Many, But Known By Few

Gulf War Syndrome: A Condition Felt By Many, But Known By Few

by Jameson Goodell

Veterans often face many adverse effects from serving in combat. There are combat-related injuries and often many mental health effects. However for many veterans who served in the First Persian Gulf War there is another major health effect caused by their service. Gulf War Veterans’ Medically Unexplained Illness (more colloquially known as “Gulf War Syndrome”) is a cluster of unexplained symptoms suffered by veterans who have served in the Gulf Theater.[i] Because an estimated 30% of the 700,000 U.S. soldiers deployed to Saudi Arabia and Kuwait during this conflict are afflicted with this condition, it is important for all veterans and civilians to understand how the war has followed these people home in an unexpected way.[ii] It is important for all to educate themselves to learn what this devastating condition is and what the potential causes are so it can be better treated and prevented in the future. It is also useful for veterans who believe they may have this condition to learn how the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) rates and awards compensation to individuals suffering from this condition.

            One of the biggest problems when it comes to diagnosing and treating veterans afflicted with Gulf War Syndrome is that there is no specific set of symptoms that underlie the condition and many veterans can display a wide array of symptoms. Notable is that various treatment agencies cannot even agree on an official name for Gulf War Syndrome. The VA calls it “Gulf War Veterans’ Medically Unexplained Illness”,[iii] the Committee on Gulf War and Health (“the Committee”) calls it “Chronic Multi-symptom Illness”,[iv] and the greater veteran population calls it “Gulf War Syndrome.” Nevertheless, most agree as to what the condition entails and what its most common symptoms are. The Committee defines the condition as:

The presence of a spectrum of chronic symptoms experienced for 6 months or     longer in at least two of six categories—fatigue, mood and condition, musculoskeletal, gastrointestinal, respiratory, and neurologic—that may overlap with but are not fully captured by known syndromes (such as [irritable bowel syndrome], [chronic fatigue syndrome], and fibromyalgia) or other diagnoses.[v]

This definition is extremely broad and can cover a wide variety of symptoms based on these six categories. Some examples of specific symptoms listed by the VA include: abnormal weight loss, fatigue, cardiovascular disease, muscle and joint pain, headache, menstrual disorders, neurological and psychological problems, skin conditions, respiratory disorders, and sleep disturbances.[vi] Also included can be symptoms of other conditions such as chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, or functional gastrointestinal disorders like irritable bowel syndrome, functional dyspepsia, or abdominal pain syndrome.[vii] Once any number of these conditions manifest together, then they can be considered diagnosed with Gulf War Syndrome for treatment purposes, if there is no independent explanation for the symptoms.

Because Gulf War Syndrome can exhibit itself in many different ways with different symptoms, treatment for the condition can be as difficult as the diagnosis. The most effective treatments target the actual symptoms involved and many effective treatments match treatments for similar conditions that have similar symptoms.[viii] There is some evidence that certain neurological pharmaceuticals along with group cognitive behavioral therapy can be effective at treating many of the related symptoms.[ix] However, because there is no “one-size-fits-all” approach to managing this condition, an individualized approach is necessary.[x]

Probably the greatest mystery regarding Gulf War Syndrome is what actually causes it. Though many veterans of combat feel psychological effects from their time in war (such as veterans suffering shell shock after World War I), Gulf War Syndrome is different because it also includes severe physical effects. Thorough studies have been conducted to try to determine what the cause is, but it has been difficult to pinpoint an exact cause due to the large population of those affected and the different exposures those individuals faced. These studies have narrowed down the list of potential causes to about a half dozen potential causes. These include general psychological stress of war, exposure to smoke from Kuwaiti oil fires, depleted uranium, ingestion of pyridostigmine bromide (PB) pills (used as a protective measure against nerve gas exposure), pesticide use, and potential low-level exposure to sarin nerve gas.[xi] Of these, the most likely causes are ingestion of PB and pesticide use as there is evidence linking these to illnesses related to Gulf War Syndrome and these were almost exclusively used by soldiers in the Gulf War conflict.[xii]

An important point for all veterans who suffer from or believe they do suffer from Gulf War Syndrome is how to obtain benefits from the VA for their condition. The VA has very specific rules and regulations regarding service connection and disability rating for unexplained conditions suffered by Gulf War veterans. Generally for service connection a veteran must show that a certain condition was incurred coincident with service in the Armed Forces, or was a pre-existing condition that was aggravated during their service.[xiii] However, because of the difficulties in diagnosis with Gulf War Syndrome and the fact that symptoms can appear much later, there are different rules regarding service connection related to this illness.

The VA presumes that certain chronic, unexplained symptoms existing for 6 months or more are related to Gulf War service without regard to cause.[xiv] These presumptive illnesses must have appeared during active duty in the Southwest Asia theater of military operations or by December 31, 2021 and be at least 10 percent disabling under the VA’s disability ratings charts.[xv] It is important to note that this is not limited to service in the Persian Gulf War in 1991, but can also include any service in Iraq and the Middle East to present day.[xvi] There is some evidence and many individual cases that suggest that Gulf War Syndrome can occur in veterans of the current conflicts in the Middle East and VA recognizes this in allowing presumptive service connection for veterans who suffer this condition and served recently.[xvii]

The presumptive illnesses VA looks at are chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, functional gastrointestinal disorders, and “undiagnosed illnesses.”[xviii] This means that if any of these four conditions are shown to have lasted for at least 6 months and the veteran served in the Southwest Asia theater of operations, then the condition is presumed to be service connection and no further evidence of cause need be presented. Chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia are well-defined on their own, but “functional gastrointestinal disorders” and “undiagnosed illnesses” are quite vague and reflect the unknown and varied nature of Gulf War Syndrome. The VA states that functional gastrointestinal disorders relate to chronic symptoms of the gastrointestinal tract which can include irritable bowel syndrome, functional dyspepsia, and abdominal pain syndrome.[xix] “Undiagnosed illnesses” relate directly to general symptoms such as fatigue, muscle and joint pain, headaches, skin conditions, sleep disturbances, and several others often felt by veterans with Gulf War Syndrome.[xx]

The second step in any VA claim is how the condition will be rated based on the VA’s disability ratings chart. Gulf War Syndrome is unique because its symptoms vary widely and it is difficult to measure these compared to other conditions. When it comes to Gulf War Syndrome, the VA rates each symptom separately, based on the closest analogous condition within the disability ratings chart. For example, if a veteran’s Gulf War Syndrome symptoms include fatigue, headaches, and a skin rash, then each of those symptoms would be rated separately based on the closest analogous condition. General fatigue can be rated as “chronic fatigue syndrome,” headaches can be rated under “migraine headaches,” and the skin rash can be rated as a general skin condition.

War can always leave a lasting impact on those fighting it. But for veterans suffering from Gulf War Syndrome, they endure significantly greater hardship than their peers. It is important for everyone, veterans and civilians alike, to educate themselves and understand the plight that these individuals face every day due to their service to our country. It is also useful for those who suffer from Gulf War Syndrome or think they may suffer from it to know how to treat their symptoms and how to navigate the VA claims process in order to receive compensation for their condition incurred during service.

[i] Gulf War Veterans’ Medically Unexplained Illnesses, U.S. Dep’t of Veterans Affairs (Oct. 21, 2016) http://www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/gulfwar/medically-unexplained-illness.asp. [hereinafter VA on Gulf War Syndrome].

[ii] Steven Wilson, Gulf war illness is real: research consortium publishes main causes of illnesses impacting Persian Gulf War veterans, 58 Disabled American Veterans Magazine 22 (2016).

[iii] VA on Gulf War Syndrome, supra note 1.

[iv] Institute of Medicine of the National Academies, Gulf War and Health: Treatment for Chronic Multisymptom Illness 1 (2013) [hereinafter Treatment for Chronic Multisymptom Illness].

[v] Id. at 23.

[vi] VA on Gulf War Syndrome, supra note 1.

[vii] Id.

[viii] Treatment for Chronic Mutisymptom Illness, supra note 4, at 185.

[ix] Id. at 184-85.

[x] Id. at 185.

[xi] Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans’ Illnesses, Gulf War Illness and the Health of Gulf War Veterans: Scientific Findings and Recommendations 224-26 (2008).

[xii] Id. at 227.

[xiii] Principles relating to service connection, 38 C.F.R. § 3.303(a) (2016).

[xiv] VA on Gulf War Syndrome, supra note 1.

[xv] Id.

[xvi] See id.; see also Gulf War Service, U.S. Dep’t of Veterans Affairs (June 3, 2015) (listing countries considered part of “Southwest Asia theater of military operations), http://www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/gulfwar/military-service.asp.

[xvii] See Stella M. Gwini, et. al., Multisymptom Illness in Gulf War Veterans: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis, 58 Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine 659, 664 (2016).

[xviii] VA on Gulf War Syndrome, supra note 1.

[xix] Id.

[xx] Id.

M-VETS Student Advisors Participate in the National Veterans Law Moot Court Competition

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For the first time in program history, two Student Advisors with The Antonin Scalia Law School Mason Veterans and Servicemembers Legal Clinic (“M-VETS”) participated in the 2016 National Veterans Law Moot Court Competition at the George Washington University Law School in Washington, D.C.  Matthew McIntee and Rodger Nayak, third year law students at Scalia Law School and first semester Student Advisors with the M-VETS program, entered the competition in September 2016 and worked for two months to prepare a brief in support of the hypothetical Respondent and prepared to argue both sides of the appeal during oral argument at the competition taking place on November 5-6, 2016.

This year’s case dealt with an appeal before the United States Supreme Court pertaining to the VA’s authority to administer medical marijuana to patients.  Specifically, the teams were asked to analyze whether the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims has the authority to review the validity of laws and regulations listing marijuana as a Schedule I drug for purposes of the Controlled Substances Act and whether the VA’s failure to administer medical marijuana constitutes “carelessness, negligence, lack of proper skill, error in judgment, or similar instance of fault” for purposes of 38 U.S.C. § 1151.

This year’s competition was one of the largest in history with 24 teams competing from 17 law schools, including M-VETS’s first ever appearance in the competition.   Despite an outstanding effort by the M-VETS team, Baylor Law School took home top honors in the competition. Regarding the experience, Student Advisor Rodger Nayak stated “in researching our brief and preparing for oral arguments, Matt and I learned the principles, policies, and history of Veterans benefits law. The U.S. has an administrative agency, federal court, and body of case law devoted solely to veterans benefits determinations.  Our greater knowledge of this complex area of law, combined with the feedback that the judges at the competition provided us, has helped me and Matt become better advocates for Veterans seeking benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs.”  Student Advisor Matt McIntee echoed this statement and provided “the Veteran’s Moot Court Competition at GW Law was a great opportunity to dive headfirst into a unique, but exceptionally important area of the law. It not only afforded students the chance to hone their brief writing and oral argument skills, but it also helped raise awareness about a growing area of the law that needs solid attorneys.”

M-VETS Director, Timothy MacArthur, indicated that both Student Advisors dedicated a significant amount of time and effort to the brief and oral arguments stating “Matt and Rodger did a great job during the entirety of this competition.  This was the first time Scalia Law School participated in this event and we hope to keep sending Student Advisors to this competition in the future.  The oral arguments were a very valuable learning experience as the moot court judges were litigators in the area of Veterans Law.  This type of competition furthers the goals of inspiring public service in this area of law and provides a practical exercise for experience.  Also, M-VETS would like to personally thank Adjunct Professor Brandy Wagstaff who volunteered her time and substantial moot court experience to get Matt and Rodger ready for this competition.”

Righting the Ship, a short summary of the VA’s failures, and its attempts to fix its issues.

This May 19, 2014 photo shows a a sign in front of the Veterans Affairs building in Washington, DC. The VA and Secretary Eric Shinseki are under fire amid reports by former and current VA employees that up to 40 patients may have died because of delayed treatment at an agency hospital in Phoenix, Arizona. AFP PHOTO / Karen BLEIER (Photo credit should read KAREN BLEIER/AFP/Getty Images)

Written by M-VETS Student-Advisors Mike West and Fernando Cota-Wertz

“To care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow, and his orphan.” That is the official motto of the U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs.[1] The Department of Veterans Affairs, or the VA for short, is the Federal Department tasked with taking care of our Nation’s Veterans and their families. Yet, recent studies have found that “more than a half million veterans in the United States are homeless at some time, and on any given night more than 300,000 are living on the streets or in shelters.”[2]  “Although lack of education and limited transferable skills from military to civilian life are significant causes of these problems, physical and mental health problems (and lack of care for those problems) are also factors.”[3]  With physical and mental health problems weighing in as two major factors causing significant struggles for veterans and servicemembers to adapt to civilian life, the lack of care for these problems needs to be addressed.

The Military Times, in an article published on June 3, 2016, reported that in the past five months about 505,000 veterans were still waiting more than a month to see a doctor.[4] The problem is even worse for Veterans seeking mental health treatment. The American Physiological Association estimates that of the 1.7 million veterans that served in Iraq and Afghanistan, 300,000 suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or major depression.[5] It is also estimated that over twenty veterans commit suicide every day.[6]

In order to combat this epidemic, the VA has aggressively undertaken new measures to combat suicide among Veterans. VA facilities now have same-day access for veterans who suffer from mental health issues.[7] Additionally, the VA has hired 5,300 new mental health providers since 2010 and it is launching new community initiatives to try to get counseling to the Veterans in need.[8] The VA is also developing and utilizing preventive modeling systems so it can identify high-risk veterans in order to intervene as early as possible.[9] VA officials are hopeful that this new preventive research will give them a better idea of where to focus their efforts.[10]

In additions to its efforts to help Veterans in need of mental health treatment, the Federal Government has also put into place other programs to help combat the “backlog” at the VA. One of these programs is the Veterans Choice Program (VCP). The VCP tries to circumvent the long wait times by allowing veterans to see a private physician if they are not able to get an appointment at a VA in fewer than 30 days.[11] “For Veterans who have faced unacceptable waiting times for needed medical care, or for whom a regular VA medical facility is inaccessible, the Veteran Choice Program makes it possible for them to receive the needed care from a non-VA health care provider in their community.”[12]  In order to use the VCP, veterans must enroll in the program.[13]  After enrolling, veterans will receive a Veterans Choice Card and receive a letter detailing information about their eligibility.[14]

So far, it seems that the VCP has not done much to alleviate the problem of wait times. It has been reported that the VCP has had little impact on getting veterans to see a primary care physician within 30 days.[15]  Veterans are facing problems such as being referred to doctors that are too far away, not being placed on the list of patients eligible for the VCP, and being denied service due to the VCP not paying doctors on time.[16] A lot of the problems with the VCP may be due to the quick implementation time of the program.  The VCP, essentially a $10 billion program, was basically created in 90 days.  Usually a program of this size and complexity takes at least a year to create and have proper implementation.  The government needs to continuously updated and modify the procedures of the VCP to help decrease the wait time for veterans.  Due the fast implementation of the program, a lot of modification needs to continuously be implemented in the program until veteran wait time is drastically reduced.

The VCP needs to implement a directional plan to help decrease wait times in problem areas. Some hospitals’ clinics have no wait times.[17]  While at other facilities, veterans can wait months.  The VCP should reform to target theses problem areas first.  They should seek to enroll more local doctors in the problem areas by incentivizing local doctors to join.  For example, the government could offer some sort of tax credit for funds earned treating veterans based on participation in the VCP.  An incentive like this may help to get more doctors involved and result in decreased wait times in problem areas, and ultimately increase the effectiveness of the VCP in general.

“With the words, ‘To care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow, and his orphan,’ President Lincoln affirmed the government’s obligation to care for those injured during the war and to provide for the families of those who perished on the battlefield.”[18]  Though the federal government has put into place programs to help alleviate the various veteran health care problems, it still can do a better job at making sure veterans are able to receive proper health care in a timely manner. With physical and mental health problems weighing in as two major factors causing significant struggles for veterans and servicemembers to adopt to civilian life, timely medical services and care can help them to adopt more easily to civilian life.

[1] The Origin of the VA Motto: Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address, United States Department of Veterans Affairs, https://www.va.gov/opa/publications/celebrate/vamotto.pdf

[2] Policy Statement, Am. Public Health Ass’n, Removing Barriers to Mental Health Services for Veterans (Jan. 2015).

[3] Policy Statement, Am. Public Health Ass’n, Removing Barriers to Mental Health Services for Veterans (Jan. 2015).

[4] Kime, Patricia, Some veterans still wait months for medical care, Military Times, June 3 2016, http://www.militarytimes.com/story/veterans/2016/06/03/some-veterans-still-wait-months-medical-care/85350810/

[5] American Physiological Association: The Critical Need for Mental Health Professionals Trained to Treat Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Traumatic Brain Injury, January 1, 2016: http://www.apa.org/about/gr/issues/military/critical-need.aspx (quoting RAND Center for Military Health Policy Research, Invisible Wounds of War, 2008.)

[6] Id.

[7] McLaughlin, Elizabeth, Va Releases Results of Largest Analysis of Veteran’s Suicide Rates, ABC News, July 7, 2016, http://abcnews.go.com/US/va-releases-results-largest-analysis-veteran-suicide-rates/story?id=40401007

[8] Kime, Some Veterans Still Wait Months For Medical Care, June 3, 2016.

[9] McLaughlin, Va Releases Results of Largest Analysis of Veteran’s Suicide Rates, July 7, 2016.

[10] Kime, Some Veterans Still Wait Months For Medical Care, June 3, 2016.

[11] Id.

[12]Veterans Affairs Program, Health Net Federal Services, LLC., October 27, 2016, https://www.hnfs.com/content/hnfs/home/va/home/veterans-choice/what-is-the-veterans-choice-program-.html

[13] Id.

[14] Id.

[15] Walsh, Steve, Lawrence, Quil, Pupovac, Jessica, How Congress and the VA left Many Veterans Without a ‘Choice,’ NPR, May 17, 2016, http://www.npr.org/2016/05/17/478215589/how-congress-and-the-va-left-many-veterans-without-a-choice

[16] Id.

[17] Kime, Some Veterans Still Wait Months For Medical Care, June 3, 2016.

[18] Celebrating America’s Freedoms: The Origin of the VA Motto Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, October 28, 2016, https://www.va.gov/opa/publications/celebrate/vamotto.pdf

How – and why – a law school veterans clinic works

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The Antonin Scalia Law School Mason Veterans and Servicemembers Legal Clinic (“M-VETS”) recently contributed to the ABA Law Student Division Before the Bar blog.  The Before the Bar blog connects students to information on careers and topics within the legal field and spotlights projects that are going on at law schools.  One of these areas, legal services for Veterans, is the special focus for the ABA Pro Bono week taking place from 23-29 OCT 2016.  At the annual ABA meeting in August, ABA President Linda Klein launched a Veterans Legal Services Initiative focused on providing a major effort to mobilize lawyers on behalf of enhanced legal services for the nation’s veterans.

M-VETS Student-Advisors Rebecca Eubank and Michael West answered the call of President Klein through their enrollment in M-VETS and represented Scalia Law School and the M-VETS program by contributing an article to the Before the Bar blog detailing the M-VETS program, their experience as student-advisors in the M-VETS clinic and working directly with Veterans, Servicemembers and their dependents.  Ms. Eubank states “the best part of taking part in a clinic is the practical experience you gain and the opportunity to work directly with Veterans, Servicemembers and their dependents.  A clinic experience reflects life in a real law practice where you may or may not know much about a specific area of law before you’re assigned to a case. In a class, you might sit there for a semester pouring through property law and trying to commit as much of it as you can to memory. After assisting a veteran in one landlord tenant matter, you’ll probably remember the steps required for a landlord to evict a tenant much better when the bar exam rolls around.” Mr. West echoes this statement and adds “M-VETS gives us the opportunity to develop our law practice skills by providing us with a hands-on educational experience and the opportunity to gain real-world legal experience as if we worked in a real law firm.   The director and staff attorney give us leeway in how we want to operate our clinic.  The experience has been great thus far.   The learning curve was steep at first, but once we were over the hump, it has become an extremely satisfying experience.”

The article highlights the fact that M-VETS is dedicated to the mission of providing active-duty members of the armed forces, their families and Veterans with free legal representation in matters of clear injustice or in which they could not retain legal counsel without undue hardship.  As the first Veterans clinical program in the United States, M-VETS has served as the model for Veterans and military clinics in law schools across the country.  Managing Attorney Leigh M. Winstead praised the ABA’s decision to highlight Veterans clinics and other pro bono veterans initiatives in celebration of Pro Bono Week.  “Many of these clinics and initiatives began as a result of student-organized efforts to provide legal assistance to Veterans, Servicemembers and their families in a very nuanced and complex area of law unfamiliar to many practitioners and law students,” Winstead said.  “Their hard work and incredible results should be highlighted and praised.  It is important to spotlight the work being done in these clinics and organizations so we can educate the greater legal community about the continuing need for assistance in this area.”

The “How – and why – a law school veterans clinic works” written by Ms. Eubank and Mr. West can be read at http://abaforlawstudents.com/2016/10/25/how-and-why-a-law-school-veterans-clinic-works/

 

M-VETS Clinic Now Accepting Student-Advisor Applications for Spring 2017

M-VETS Clinic Now Accepting Applications for Spring 2017

The Mason Veterans and Servicemembers Legal Clinic (M-VETS) will begin accepting applications for the spring 2017 semester.  Applications will be accepted until 11 November 2016, however, student-advisors will be selected on a rolling basis until enrollment is met which may occur before the 11 November 2016 deadline.  All applicants are encouraged to apply as soon as possible as interviews are scheduled in the order M-VETS receives the application.      

Application and Permission of the Director are required for registration in M-VETS.  To apply, please email an updated resume to mvets@gmu.edu and submit the Student-Advisor Online Application available at:  http://mvets.law.gmu.edu/students/.  Upon receipt and review, a brief interview will be scheduled with the Director and Managing Attorney.

M-VETS enables students to represent active-duty members of the armed forces, their families and veterans in a wide variety of civil and administrative, litigation and non-litigation matters, including consumer-protection, landlord-tenant, family law, contracts, and military and veterans law and entitlement matters.  Students are supervised by law school instructors or private practitioners with subject matter expertise, attend 2 hours of weekly classroom instruction and status meetings, and conduct an average of 6-10 hours per week (fall & spring) out-of-class casework.  Students registered for the fall or spring session of the clinic will receive three (3) total graded credits for this course, two (2) of which are “in-class” credit and one (1) of which is “out-of-class.”  M-VETS meets from 1600-1750 each Wednesday of the spring semester, student-advisors are required to complete office hours, attend director meetings and continue responsibility for the matters to which they have been assigned until the commencement of the summer 2017 semester. 

Selected student-advisors must be available for a 4 hour “boot-camp” which will take place prior to the first M-VETS class.  Although not required or dispositive, preference may be given to applicants that 1) possess or are able to obtain a Third Year Practice Certificate, and/or 2) those who have taken the course once previously or anticipate taking the course for both spring and summer semesters.  If accepted, students will be enrolled by the Records office in the course.

Please direct questions to the M-VETS Director: Timothy M. MacArthur, tmacarth@gmu.edu

M-VETS Expands its Pro Bono Practice Areas to include Expungements

M-VETS Expands its Pro Bono Practice Areas to include Expungements

The mission of the Mason Veterans and Servicemembers Legal Clinic (“M-VETS”) is to provide active-duty members of the armed forces, their families and Veterans with free legal representation in matters of clear injustice or in which they could not retain counsel without undue hardship. M-VETS was founded in response to the legal needs of our deployed Servicemembers facing legal issues at home while protecting our country abroad.  In this sense, M-VETS’s services directly impact the readiness, quality of life, and morale of the members of our armed forces and their families.  The clinic later increased its footprint in the military community by expanding its practice area to include military law and VA matters, providing valuable representation to Veterans and their dependents which directly impacts their access to VA benefits and services.

Today, M-VETS represents clients from all five branches of the armed forces and provides the most comprehensive legal representation of any Veterans clinic in the Commonwealth of Virginia with services ranging from applications for discharge upgrades, Boards for Correction of Military Records, representation before Medical and Physical Evaluation Boards, appeals of the denial of VA disability compensation claims, requests for increased ratings decisions, and appeals to the Board of Veterans Appeals and the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, to representation in the negotiation and litigation of consumer protection, family law, landlord-tenant, and contract matters in Northern Virginia courts.

M-VETS will now further expand its practice areas to include requests for expungement in Northern Virginia courts.  Please apply for expungement services online at http://mvets.law.gmu.edu/apply/applicant-intake-form-for-civil-matters/

The following links provide initial information regarding expungements in the Northern Virginia courts M-VETS will operate:

http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/courts/circuit/expungement_info.htm

https://courts.arlingtonva.us/circuit-court/expungements/

http://www.pwcgov.org/government/courts/circuit/pages/expungement.aspx

https://www.loudoun.gov/index.aspx?NID=961

M-VETS Community Outreach at a Celebration for Veterans at VFW Post 3103

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The Antonin Scalia Law School Mason Veterans and Servicemembers Legal Clinic (“M-VETS”) attended an outreach event at a “Celebration for Veterans” at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 3103 in Fredericksburg, Virginia, on 15 OCT 16.  Student-Advisors Anne Kidd and C.J. Nee represented Scalia Law School and the M-VETS program by providing information to the Veteran attendees and their family members in an effort to increase awareness of the pro bono legal services M-VETS is able to provide to these Veterans and their family members.   M-VETS Director, Timothy M. MacArthur, believes outreach to organizations like the VFW is “essential in providing visibility concerning our program, services and school to this population.  This type of outreach is also valuable to the M-VETS student-advisors as they are able to gain a greater understanding of Veteran and military culture through first-hand experience.”

The event was a “Celebration for Veterans” and was attended by local businesses and State and Federal organizations.  Local businesses provided access to on-site massage therapists, cosmetic services and a free lunch provided by Olive Garden.  M-VETS was joined by the Department of Veterans Affairs mobile Vet Center which provided health screenings to veterans in attendance and Virginia Department of Veterans Services who provided literature regarding benefits for Veterans and their family members.  M-VETS Managing Attorney, Leigh M. Winstead, was in attendance on Saturday and explains “we are very grateful to the organizers of the event and the Fredericksburg VFW for hosting a great day of appreciation for our Veterans.  It was a great opportunity to not only offer our assistance to local Veterans but simply be able to thank so many Veterans in-person for their service.”

M-VETS will continue to conduct outreach and provide information regarding the Scalia Law School to active-duty members of the armed forces, their families, and veterans.  Please keep visiting our webpage to keep updated on future events.

M-VETS files Amicus Curiae brief to the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of veterans seeking redress in medical malpractice claims against the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The Antonin Scalia Law School Mason Veterans and Servicemembers Legal Clinic (“M-VETS”) filed an Amicus Curiae brief together with the Baylor Law School Veterans’ Assistance Clinic (“Baylor Clinic”) in an effort to increase available avenues of justice for veterans seeking redress in medical malpractice claims against the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (“VA”).

M-VETS and the Baylor Clinic filed the brief in support of the petitioner in Milbauer v. United States of America, which is on petition for writ of certiorari before the United States Supreme Court.  The case will resolve a split among the United States Circuit Courts as to whether the Veterans’ Judicial Review Act (“VJRA”) bars federal districts courts from hearing VA medical negligence suits arising under the Federal Tort Claims Act (“FTCA”).

The Petitioner, Richard Milbauer, brought suit against the VA after the failure of VA physicians to recommend and perform alternative diagnostic procedures rendered a treatable shoulder injury permanent.   The Eleventh Circuit held that the federal courts lacked jurisdiction over Milbauer’s claim based on a broad reading of the VJRA’s prohibition on judicial review of any VA decision affecting “the provision of benefits” to veterans.

“This issue is extremely important to our military veterans seeking redress in cases of medical negligence against the VA,” Leigh Winstead, M-VETS staff attorney said. “The split among the Circuits creates uncertainty for veterans who have been harmed by the decisions of VA medical staff and desire to pursue damages under the FTCA.”  Winstead said.  “It is imperative that the Supreme Court clarify the confines of the VJRA’s jurisdictional bar to ensure that appropriate legal remedies are available to our veterans.”

M-VETS and the Baylor Clinic were represented by the international law firm of Reed Smith LLP in filing the brief. Both clinics provide active-duty members of the armed forces, their families, and veterans with free legal representation in matters of clear injustice or where they cannot retain counsel without undue hardship.  See link below for the U.S. Supreme Court filing.

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M-VETS Student Advisors Experience as a Legal Assistant with the Fairfax County Veterans Treatment Docket

M-VETS Student Advisor Mr. Jeremy Glenn recently completed independent study as a judicial extern for the Honorable Michael J. Lindner and acted as a legal assistant for the Fairfax County Veterans Treatment Docket.

In his independent study written submission to Professor Michael L. Davis, Mr. Glenn outlines his impressions of the valuable services provided by the Fairfax VTD, as well as, the dedication and commitment of the VTD team.  Further, Mr. Glenn provides a brief history of the background, purposes behind, and the unique constitutional issues pertaining to veterans treatment courts.   Bravo Zulu Jeremy!

Glenn_Veterans Courts paper_final