M-VETS Secures Almost $13,000.00 in Dependency and Indemnity Compensation for the Surviving Spouse of a Vietnam Veteran

(Pictured Katie Stegmuller and David Kaplan)

In March of 2019, the Antonin Scalia Law School Mason Veterans and Servicemembers Legal Clinic (“M-VETS”) secured Dependency and Indemnity Compensation for the surviving spouse of a Vietnam veteran. M-VETS Student Advisors Katie Stegmuller and David Kaplan assisted the surviving spouse in the preparation and submission of this claim. The initial award for the surviving spouse totaled almost $13,000.00 in back pay with an additional monthly award of $1,300.00. The monthly payment will continue for the rest of the surviving spouse’s lifetime.

The clients spouse was a Vietnam veteran who served honorably in the United States Air Force as an Aerospace Ground Equipment Repairman from January 14, 1964 until September 15, 1967. Notably, while on active duty the veteran earned the Vietnam Service Medal with one Bronze Service Star, Republic of Vietnam Commendation Medal, and the National Defense Service Medal. Unfortunately, the veteran passed away in 2016 due to metastatic lung cancer. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) presumes certain disabilities are caused by military service. In this matter, the veteran served in the Republic of Vietnam between January 9, 1962, and May 7, 1975, and it is presumed the veteran was exposed to Agent Orange during that period of time, which caused the metastatic lung cancer.

“I am truly grateful for all the hard work the students put into my matter and humbled by their selfless giving. I can’t wait until they become attorneys, I will be so proud,” said the surviving spouse. Student Advisor Katie Stegmuller commented, “Working with our client has been an absolute joy, and I am pleased to have helped our client secure DIC benefits by filing a fully developed claim. Our client has been exceptionally grateful and positive throughout M-VETS representation, long before we heard the good news from the VA.”

“Katie and David did a great job for our client in this matter,” Timothy MacArthur, M-VETS Director said. “The circumstances of why our client sought out the assistance of M-VETS are certainly sorrowful, the death of a beloved spouse. Our student advisors are always mindful of these circumstances and they try their best to provide any assistance they can to make the situation a little brighter. In this matter, we were able to secure some financial assistance for our client which should help out in the years to come.”

M-VETS mission is to provide free legal representation to active-duty members of the armed forces, veterans, and their families while offering law students the opportunity to receive supervised, practical legal experience by advocating for those who serve or have served in our United States armed forces. M-VETS provides representation in a variety of matters including Virginia civil litigation matters, uncontested divorces, consumer protection matters, wills and powers of attorney, as well as assisting with matters before the VA and various administrative boards, including discharge upgrades, record corrections, military pay and entitlement matters, and VA disability benefit appeals.

M-VETS Receives American Bar Association Military Pro Bono Project Outstanding Services Award

The Antonin Scalia Law School Mason Veterans and Servicemembers Legal Clinic (“M-VETS”) recently received the American Bar Association (ABA) Military Pro Bono Project Outstanding Services Award for its services in 2018. The ABA Standing Committee on Legal Assistance for Military Personnel (LAMP) issued this award to M-VETS for their extraordinary pro bono services through the ABA Military Pro Bono Project.

The LAMP committee issues these awards annually to individual attorneys, law firms, and law departments who provided pro bono legal services to active duty servicemembers throughout the year. The award was presented to law firms who represented five or more servicemembers, individual attorneys who represented three or more Servicemembers and attorneys who provided 50 or more hours of pro bono legal services. In 2018, M-VETS was able to provide 2289 hours of pro bono legal work to veterans, servicemembers, and their families. At a private market value of $225/hour M-VETS was able to provide $515,025.00 of pro bono legal assistance during 2018.

Regarding the award, M-VETS Director Tim MacArthur stated: “We are very grateful to the American Bar Association Standing Committee on Legal Assistance for Military Personnel for presenting M-VETS with this award. We are grateful for the opportunity to be able to provide pro bono legal services to this community while also teaching law students how to practice law.” Assistant Director Leigh Winstead added “It is an honor to have the opportunity to provide free legal services to the military community, a service we would not be able to provide as efficiently and effectively without the hard work of our dedicated student advisors. We appreciate the ABA’s recognition of our clinic’s work and look forward to continuing to serve our veterans, servicemembers and their families,” said Winstead.

M-VETS mission is to provide free legal representation to active-duty members of the armed forces, veterans, and their families while offering law students the opportunity to receive supervised, practical legal experience by advocating for those who serve or have served in our United States armed forces. M-VETS provides representation in a variety of matters including Virginia civil litigation matters, uncontested divorces, consumer protection matters, wills and powers of attorney, as well as assisting with matters before the VA and various administrative boards, including discharge upgrades, record corrections, military pay and entitlement matters, and VA disability benefit appeals.

M-VETS Prevails in Securing Judgment for Veteran’s Security Deposit

(Pictured: Casey Hunt, Michael Vlcek)

In October of 2018, the Mason Veterans and Servicemembers Legal Clinic represented a veteran and his wife at trial in General District Court to recover their $2,000 security deposit held by their former landlords. In a nearly five-hour long trial, M-VETS student advisors Casey Hunt and Michael Vlcek conducted an opening statement, direct and cross examinations, and a closing argument culminating in judgment for the full amount sought by the clinic’s clients.

“Michael and Casey did an excellent job through full trial preparations and ultimately securing a favorable judgment for our clients,” Leigh Winstead, M-VETS Assistant Director said. “Like many of our civil matters, this is a case where the attorneys’ fees required to litigate would have outweighed the potential recovery; M-VETS’s representation allowed this veteran and his family to pursue their legal remedies with the assistance of counsel and recover what was rightfully theirs,” Winstead said.

“To say that M-VETS is an amazing resource to the Veteran Community is a massive understatement,” said the veteran client. “Without this service we would have had no choice but to abandon our legal case. Their professionalism, dedication and work ethic are in line with the highest ethos we were all instilled with in the US military,” said the veteran.

M-VETS mission is to provide free legal representation to active-duty members of the armed forces, veterans, and their families while offering law students the opportunity to receive supervised, practical legal experience by advocating for those who serve or have served in our United States armed forces. M-VETS provides representation in a variety of matters including Virginia civil litigation matters, uncontested divorces, consumer protection matters, wills and powers of attorney, as well as assisting with matters before the VA and various administrative boards, including discharge upgrades, record corrections, military pay and entitlement matters, and VA disability benefit appeals.

M-VETS Provides Pro Bono Wills for Veterans at American Legion Post 139 over Veterans Day Weekend

(Pictured: Chris Babic, Jessica O’Connell, Leigh Winstead, Casey Hunt)

The Antonin Scalia Law School Mason Veterans and Servicemembers Legal Clinic (“M-VETS”) inaugural “Wills for Veterans” program was hosted by American Legion Post 139 in Arlington, Virginia on 10-11 November 2018. Along with M-VETS staff and Adjunct Faculty, Jessica O’Connell, M-VETS student-advisors Casey Hunt, Quinn Kahsay, Chris Babic, Katie Stegmuller and Brandon Howell represented Scalia Law School and the M-VETS program by assisting in the drafting of wills, powers of attorney, and living wills for veterans and their dependents.

The M-VETS Wills for Veterans program was created by M-VETS Assistant Director Leigh M. Winstead and Director Timothy M. MacArthur in an effort to provide these much needed legal services to veterans and their dependents while increasing awareness of the pro bono legal services M-VETS is able to provide to this community. MacArthur believes outreach to organizations like the American Legion is essential in promoting the M-VETS program. “These outreach opportunities provide a valuable learning experience to the student-advisors as they are able to assist in providing legal services directly to our clients while also learning about veteran culture through first-hand experience,” MacArthur said.

Held over Veterans Day weekend, the M-VETS Wills for Veterans program assisted approximately 20 veterans and their dependents during the two-day event. M-VETS was joined by the Arlington County Bar Association Young Lawyers Division which sponsored the Wills for Heroes Program and provided wills to first responders and their dependents. Leigh M. Winstead was the M-VETS attorney providing legal services for the Will for Veterans program. “We are very grateful to American Legion Post 139 for hosting two great days of appreciation for our veterans and first responders.  The fact that many veterans decided to spend part of their Veterans Day with us was very rewarding. We were also able to celebrate the 100 year anniversary of the end of World War I and pay our respects to those veterans.” Winstead said.

Student-Advisor Chris Babic commented: “I was honored to take part in the Wills for Veterans program. Assisting military veterans with legal services has been the most fulfilling experience of my time at Scalia Law School. M-VETS makes a valuable contribution to the military community while giving student advisors invaluable hands-on experience.”

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 Finalizes Seven-Year Litigation to Assist Servicemember in Securing Return of Security Deposit After Battling Through Federal and State Court

(Pictured: Historic Fairfax County Courthouse)

The Mason Veterans and Servicemembers Legal Clinic (M-VETS) closed one of its oldest and most unique cases in December 2017, securing ordinary relief through unorthodox means. M-VETS represented an active-duty Servicemember and his wife in seeking the return of their security deposit in 2010.  M-VETS finalized the matter last month, resulting in the recovery of the entire security deposit, plus seven years of interest.

In a bizarre case that began and ended in the Historic Fairfax County Courthouse, the original judgment in favor of the Servicemember was appealed to the Circuit Court, where M-VETS prevailed on summary judgment. The Landlord subsequently filed an appeal to the Virginia Court of Appeals—though unbeknownst to M-VETS or its clients, the landlord had also filed bankruptcy during the pendency of both appeals.  The bankruptcy triggered the automatic stay with respect to all litigation at the State court level.

Because the Servicemember was not listed as a creditor in the Landlord’s bankruptcy, M-VETS filed an Adversary Proceeding in the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of Virginia to lift the stay and have the debt deemed non-dischargeable in the Landlord’s bankruptcy. M-VETS obtained a final order from the bankruptcy court in the fall of 2016, which ordered the relief sought to move forward at the State court level.

With the automatic stay lifted, the Virginia Court of Appeals, which lacked subject matter jurisdiction, transferred the Landlord’s appeal to the Supreme Court of Virginia where the landlord sought to amend her notice of appeal and sought an extension of time to file her petition for appeal. M-VETS drafted and filed an opposition brief to the Landlord’s motion and prevailed in having both motions denied.

In May of 2017, the Supreme Court of Virginia issued a final order finding no reversible error in the Landlord’s appeal and denying the petition for appeal. Shortly thereafter, M-VETS filed a motion in the Circuit Court for the release of the civil appeal bond in the full amount of the security deposit and filing fees.  Although the motion was granted, the Servicemember was still owed seven years of interest on the judgment.  To collect on that amount, M-VETS filed a wage garnishment in the Circuit Court, which came to a final resolution with the interest amount paid in full to the Servicemember in December of 2017.

The successful resolution required the hard work of M-VETS Attorneys and Student-Advisors drafting motions, briefs, and orders throughout trial, various motions and several appeals before both federal and state courts in the Commonwealth. Over the course of the representation, more than 10 M-VETS Student-Advisors worked tirelessly on the matter, including current Student-Advisor, Lindsey Turok, who brought the case to finality.

“We can’t believe that this 7-year ordeal is [] finished. Thank you [M-VETS] for everything you have done for us.  We wouldn’t have this end result if it wasn’t for all of [M-VETS] work and all of the previous M-VETS lawyers and students on our case,” said the clients.

Regarding the outcome, M-VETS Managing Attorney Leigh Winstead stated: “This case took a very unusual course and required the efforts of many students and M-VETS personnel to reach a successful conclusion for our very deserving clients. Without pro bono assistance on this matter, the attorneys’ fees required to litigate at the federal and State court levels would have far exceeded the amount collected.  We are grateful for the opportunity to be able to secure a just result for an active duty servicemember and his family.”

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, and VA disability compensation appeals.

M-VETS Prevails at Trial in Landlord-Tenant Dispute

The Mason Veterans and Servicemembers Clinic (M-VETS) won a favorable verdict for a client, a Coast Guard and Marine Corps Veteran, in Stafford County Circuit Court last month. The client sought and recovered the return of his security deposit from his former landlord, who withheld the entire deposit, in part, to pay for damages the tenant reported to the landlord during his tenancy.  The Circuit Court Judge found that the damages were the responsibility of the Landlord pursuant to the terms of the Lease and that the Landlord’s failure to conduct a proper move-out inspection warranted the return of the entire security deposit to the tenant.

This verdict was achieved after the opposing party appealed the General District Court’s decision, where the lower court also held in favor of the M-VETS client in the spring of 2017. An appeal from District Court to Circuit Court constitutes a trial “de novo” where a new trial is conducted without deferring to the lower court’s rulings on law or fact.  M-VETS successfully prevailed at both trials, concluding the legal issue in the client’s favor.

M-VETS had been assisting the client with this matter since the fall of 2016. During that period, three M-VETS Student Advisors assisted on the case, including current Student Advisor Emma Devaney.  M-VETS Managing Attorney Leigh Winstead provided representation at trial in addition to her supervisory role.

The client expressed his gratitude to M-VETS for their representation. “[F]rom the start, [M-VETS] made me feel like I had an ally . . . [their personnel’s] friendly manner and obvious professional expertise gave me hope that I could put the facts in front of a judge on an equal footing with any company or person with more resources than me,” the client said.

Regarding the outcome, M-VETS Director, Tim MacArthur, stated: “The core missions for M-VETS are to provide pro-bono legal representation for veterans, Servicemembers and their dependents while providing the opportunity for Scalia Law students to gain valuable practical experience assisting our target population.  It is always satisfying to correct an injustice for our clients especially when the expense of litigation would have made it practically impossible to favorably resolve the matter.  Ms. Winstead, Ms. Devaney and the other Student Advisors did an outstanding job with this case and I always like to hear from our clients that the services we provided were appreciated, but more importantly, that our services were provided in a professional and compassionate manner.”

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, and VA disability compensation appeals.

M-VETS Finalizes Step-Parent Adoptions for Two Families of Active Duty Servicemembers

(Pictured: Leigh Winstead, Bonnie Kelly, Anna Dryden)

The Mason Veterans and Servicemembers Legal Clinic (M-VETS) successfully assisted two military families in filing and finalizing step-parent adoptions this fall. The first family of an active duty Marine sought the clinic’s assistance in finalizing the adoption of the Marine’s four-year-old stepdaughter. The Servicemember, who met his wife while stationed overseas in Europe, requested assistance from M-VETS in filing the petition for adoption.  With the hard work of M-VETS Student Advisors who drafted all pleadings, affidavits and orders, the Servicemember and his family received the Final Order of Adoption in August.

“Their assistance has made our life much easier and the process was headache free. Their assistance gave us the peace of mind we needed to close that chapter in our lives,” said the family.

“M-VETS has given [us] what we always wanted: to officially be a family. We will forever be grateful and never forget the hard work that has been done by them. A foreign adoption that ended up successfully and with tears of joy,” said one family member.

The second client is an active duty servicemember serving in the United States Air Force. He contacted M-VETS seeking to adopt his seven-year-old step-son.  M-VETS Student Advisors not only drafted affidavits and pleadings, but also obtained the consent of the birth father to efficiently finalize the adoption.

“We are so grateful to M-VETS for the adoption services, along with extraordinary customer service, provided to our family.  The process was made simple and the path almost completely navigated by their highly qualified personnel,” said the family.

Three M-VETS Student Advisors worked tirelessly on these adoption matters, including current Student Advisors Bonnie Kelly and Anna Dryden.

“Our Student Advisors were incredibly diligent and meticulous in navigating these step-parent adoptions to successful resolutions,” M-VETS Managing Attorney Leigh Winstead said. “It was not only a great learning experience for our students, but an incredibly rewarding experience to be able to bring a family together in a legal sense.”

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, and VA disability compensation appeals.

M-VETS Finalizes Divorce for Active Duty Servicemember

The Mason Veterans and Servicemembers Legal Clinic (“M-VETS”) recently finalized a divorce for an active duty servicemember in the United States Air Force after two years of drafting a property settlement agreement and navigating the divorce through the Fairfax County Circuit Court. Not only was M-VETS able to complete the divorce without the servicemember having to incur attorneys’ fees, but M-VETS handled the matter while the servicemember completed training in South Carolina and throughout her deployment to Kuwait.

Four M-VETS Student Advisors worked on the matter over the course of the two-year representation, ultimately bringing the case to a successful conclusion. M-VETS was founded with the mission to assist active-duty military personnel with legal matters at home while they serve abroad.  In this sense, the services that M-VETS provides have a direct bearing on the readiness, quality of life, and morale of our men and women serving in the armed forces.  This case and others like it at the clinic are typical of the many small victories that have a large impact in the lives of M-VETS clients.

“M-VETS handles many similar cases on the civil side of the clinic for servicemembers, veterans and their dependents and, though they are not always the most complicated legal matters, we hope that we are providing a valuable service to our men and women in the armed forces who have enough to worry about without having their time or money consumed by legal matters at home,” M-VETS Managing Attorney Leigh Winstead said. “Our Student Advisors did a tremendous job on this matter and were instrumental in diligently pushing this case through the finish line.”

M-VETS Student-Advisors Awarded Public Service and Outstanding Student Awards

Former M-VETS student-advisors were recently awarded the Emerging Leader in Public Service award and the Clinical Legal Education Association (CLEA) Outstanding Student Award. M-VETS student-advisor Jamesian D. Emmanuel was awarded the Antonin Scalia Law School Emerging Leader in Public Service award for his contributions in public service while attending Scalia Law, while M-VETS student-advisor C.J. Nee was awarded the CLEA Outstanding Student Award for his excellence in the clinical and classroom components of M-VETS.

Jamesian received the Emerging Leader in Public Service Award given to a graduating student who has engaged in public service work during their law school career and plans to continue public service work upon graduation. During his time at Scalia Law, Mr. Emmanuel was employed as a Police Officer for Northern Virginia Community College, presided as the President of the Military Law Society for two academic semesters, performed duties as a student-advisor for two academic semesters assisting veterans, military members and their dependents in M-VETS, and volunteered as an intern for the Department of Justice Office of Justice Programs.  Since graduation, Mr. Emmanuel has continued his public serve in a leadership position and has accepted an active duty commission in the Judge Advocate General’s Corp as an officer in the United States Air Force.

C.J. was awarded the CLEA Outstanding Student Award for his demonstrated excellence in the clinical and classroom components of M-VETS. The award honors one law student at each law school who has excelled in a clinical course. The award is given annually at the completion of the academic year for excellence in both the field work component of the clinical course and excellence in the seminar component of the clinical course determined by the quality of the student’s thoughtfulness and self-reflection in exploring the legal, ethical, strategic, and other pertinent issues raised in the particular clinic. C.J.’s dedication to the M-VETS program, its clients, and his understanding of the importance of helping those who have served our country in uniform has made a lasting impact in the lives of the clinic’s clients.  His work on behalf of the clinic has directly increased access to justice for the military and veteran community.

Jamesian and C.J., Bravo Zulu!

 

Opening a Door to Malpractice Suits

The National Law Journal

Jamie Schuman, Supreme Court Brief

December 28, 2016

When veteran Richard Milbauer sued the government for medical negligence, a federal court ruled it did not have jurisdiction to hear the case. That decision could leave all veterans without a way to obtain judicial review of their malpractice claims against Veterans Administration hospitals, a petition for certiorari in Milbauer v. United States warns. Milbauer’s case is scheduled for conference on Jan. 6. “It’s bigger than him,” said Reed Smith partner Colin Wrabley, who filed an amicus brief in support of Milbauer’s petition. “This case stands to protect potentially all veterans’ ability tosue for V.A. malpractice.” Reed Smith filed its friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of two law school clinics: the Antonin Scalia Law School at George Mason University’s Veterans and Servicemembers Legal Clinic and the Baylor University School of Law Veterans’ Assistance Clinic. The brief is the first before the court that bears the new name of George Mason University’s law school. The clinics provide free legal aid on a range of topics to current and former members of the military.

Their brief argues it is especially important that federal courts hear claims like Milbauer’s because of “rampant substandard medical care in the VA healthcare system.” Milbauer went to a V.A. clinic for treatment in 2005 after hurting his shoulder in a construction accident. Milbauer, who said he is claustrophobic, did not want a traditional MRI. It took V.A. doctors 10 months to run an alternate test, according to Milbauer, and diagnose the injury as a torn rotator cuff. When Milbauer finally had surgery, the procedure was unsuccessful. Milbauer sued for malpractice, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit said in January that federal district courts had no jurisdiction over the case. Milbauer maintains that the Federal Tort Claims Act enabled him to sue the government in federal court. But the Eleventh Circuit found that a separate law, the Veterans Judicial Review Act of 1988, blocked his suit. This was so, the court said, because the claim involved a benefits decision, rather than a malpractice allegation. The Veterans Judicial Review Act created a separate administrative review process for benefits questions, such as billing disputes. But the amicus brief argues that cases like Milbauer’s would be ineligible for judicial review under that channel. Milbauer’s petition gets into the nitty-gritty of how medical-negligence suits differ from benefits cases. It also details a circuit split on the scope of the bar of the Veterans Judicial Review Act.

The law school clinics’ brief looks at the legislative history of the Federal Tort Claims Act and Veterans Judicial Review Act, and argues that Congress could not have intended for the latter to prevent Milbauer from getting a district court to hear his case. “That can’t be right, it shouldn’t be right and it’s not the way that the [Federal Tort Claims Act] is written,” Reed Smith’s Wrabley said. His brief argued the point of the act is to provide an easy path to judicial recourse for people injured by government negligence. The amicus brief also details problems in the V.A. health care system, pointing, for instance, to the government’s struggle to effectively respond to reports of poor conditions at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center. The brief said many veterans cannot afford to hire lawyers to raise malpractice claims, and that attorneys might hesitate to take those cases because they can be cumbersome and offer a limited payoff. These dynamics make the Eleventh Circuit’s decision especially dangerous, the clinics argue.

Reed Smith partner James Martin was counsel of record on the amicus brief. M. Patrick Yingling, an associate at the firm, also worked on the case. Martin, Yingling and Wrabley had previously collaborated with the George Mason clinic on a different amicus brief involving veterans’ rights under the Federal Tort Claims Act. The Supreme Court heard that case, United Sates v. Kwai Fun Wong, two years ago. Wrabley said students at both clinics assisted with research and provided feedback on drafts of the Milbauer brief. He said the decision to work on the case pro bono was a no-brainer. “It’s easy to get involved in something like this when you’re supporting the cause of someone who has sacrificed so much,” Wrabley said.

Jamie Schuman is a freelance writer and graduate of George Washington University Law School.