George Mason University Antonin Scalia Law School

M-VETS Finalizes Stepparent Adoption for Army Veteran After Birth Mother Loses Battle with Cancer

(Pictured: Rachel Petrik)

The Mason Veterans and Servicemembers Legal Clinic assisted an Army Veteran in adopting his two adult stepchildren after their birth mother, the Veteran’s wife, passed away from a long battle with cancer. The Veteran married the girls’ mother in 2009, but several years later was himself diagnosed with a treatable form of cancer. Shortly after the Veteran’s remission, his wife was also diagnosed with cancer. The Veteran resigned his teaching position to take care of his wife full time, but despite fighting the battle for two years, his wife passed away in 2017. Though always intending to adopt his stepchildren, it became more important than ever that the Veteran do so with the passing of the children’s mother, so the Veteran and his stepchildren, now adults attending college, sought the assistance of M-VETS in legally binding their familial relationship.

With the consent of the adult stepchildren, M-VETS was able to file the Petition for Adoption, including all affidavits, proposed orders and vital statistics forms. In March of 2019, the Prince William County Circuit Court entered the Final Order of Adoption, concluding the matter favorably for the Veteran and his family. M-VETS Student Advisor Rachel Petrik worked with the Veteran beginning in the fall of 2018 and was able to bring the matter to a quick resolution through her diligence and hard work.

“In this case, we had very motivated clients and a hard working Student Advisor, which resulted in a quick resolution,” said M-VETS Deputy Director, Leigh Winstead. “Rachel did an outstanding job with the case, completing the intake assessment, engaging the clients, completing all required court filings, and receiving a Final Order of Adoption in the span of six months—a portion of which was over the law school’s winter break. Rachel worked through the break to make sure the clients’ case pushed forward,” Winstead said.

“These clients have faced so much hardship and adversity over the last several years, yet they remain positive and have found strength in time of sorrow. Their story is heartwarming and inspirational. We are just happy to be able to bring some relief and a favorable outcome to these clients after all they have endured,” said Winstead.

“Helping my wife raise her two daughters has been a joy,” said the Veteran. “Unfortunately, I had to wait until they were adults to legally adopt them. To complicate matters further, my wife passed away before both girls reached 18, plus they had foreign birth certificates.

“Rachel deftly navigated these and other obstacles to successfully process the adoptions. We have been waiting a decade for this! From my daughters and I, and on behalf of their mom, thank you for a job well done,” 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 Prevails for Iraq Combat Veteran at Board of Veterans’ Appeals Hearing Securing $22,000 in Reimbursement for Post 9/11 GI Bill Payments

(Pictured: Curt Orshoski)

A 2014 claim for Post 9/11 GI Bill (“GI Bill”) benefits was finally granted at the 100% payment rate after nearly five years of litigation with the Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA). M-VETS successfully argued at a personal appearance hearing before the Board of Veterans’ Appeals (BVA) in D.C. for its client to receive GI Bill benefits at the 100% payment rate.
M-VETS represented a veteran who was medically retired from the United States Army due to service-connected disabilities sustained as a result of combat service in Iraq. The veteran was a member of the Virginia National Guard who mobilized and deployed to Iraq to serve as a linguist with a Special Forces Group from Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
While serving in Iraq, the veteran was physically and psychologically injured. The veteran returned to the United States and was placed on active duty medical hold while receiving treatment for the service-connected injuries. Subsequently, the veteran was referred to the Army Medical and Physical Evaluation Boards that found the veteran’s service-connected medical conditions rendered the veteran unable to further serve in the Army. The veteran was honorably discharged from active duty and permanently retired from the Army due to the service-connected disabilities.

Following the medical retirement from the Army, the veteran applied for educational benefits under the GI Bill and initially received a Certificate of Eligibility (“COE”) from the DVA for the receipt of benefits at the 100% payment rate. With this COE in-hand, the veteran was accepted admitted to a university outside of the United States and began attending classes. When the DVA received notice of the veteran’s enrollment at the university, the DVA determined the COE for the GI Bill at the 100% rate was erroneously issued. The DVA claimed the veteran was only entitled to the GI Bill at the 60% rate. After receiving this decision from the DVA, the veteran was forced to pay out of pocket for a portion of the educational expenses. Subsequently, the veteran filed an appeal to this decision and contacted M-VETS.

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. There are certain active duty time requirements that a soldier needs to meet in order to be eligible for the GI Bill at a certain rate. At first glance, the requirements are relatively straight forward, but when you start looking into Army Reserve and National Guard issues coupled with a medical retirement, the answers become harder to find.”

M-VETS filed a brief before the BVA and requested a personal appearance in order to argue the matter in front of a Judge. Prior to the BVA hearing, the DVA’s position was that the veteran had not accrued enough active duty time in service to receive the GI Bill at the 100% rate. Their position was based on the fact that a portion of the veteran’s active duty time was served while on medical hold orders for treatment of service-connected injuries. M-VETS agreed with the DVA assessment of the matter but argued that a statutory exception applied in this case.

At the BVA hearing, M-VETS argued that the veteran served 30 continuous days on active duty in the Armed Forces after September 11, 2001 and was discharged for a service-connected disability. As such, the veteran was entitled to GI Bill benefits at the 100% rate pursuant to 38 U.S.C.A. §3311(b)(2) and 38 U.S.C.A. §3313(c)(1).

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 in D.C., it was former M-VETS SA Curt Orshoski who argued the motion before the BVA. “Curt did a great job arguing the motion and presenting evidence during the hearing. Our client was able to fly to the United States to attend the hearing and Curt conducted an opening statement, direct examination, and a closing argument which greatly assisted the Judge in determining the favorable outcome for our client,” MacArthur said. “The DVA benefits process is paternalistic in nature which is invaluable for allowing our students to gain practical experience in a non-adversarial setting,” MacArthur continued. “This was a long process and fortunately our client was able to weather the storm financially to see this through. Going to school is expensive and our client received $22,285.52 from the DVA for reimbursement of out of pocket expenses for tuition. Our veteran should not have to pay another dime for educational costs moving forward,” MacArthur said.

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.

M-VETS Provides Support to Legal Services of Northern Virginia for Freedom Day USA Celebration in Alexandria

(Pictured: M-VETS Student-Advisor Josh Morrow (left) and LSNV Paralegal Richard Lane (right))

The Antonin Scalia Law School Mason Veterans and Servicemembers Legal Clinic (“M-VETS”) provided support to Legal Services of Northern Virginia (“LSNV”) during this year’s Freedom Day USA celebration. Dr. Kathleen Mullaney hosted the Freedom Day USA celebration at her dental office located in Alexandria, Virginia on 5 October 2019. M-VETS student-advisor Joshua Morrow represented Scalia Law School and the M-VETS clinic by assisting LSNV in spreading the word about the pro bono legal services provided by M-VETS and LSNV.

The Freedom Day USA celebration provides an opportunity for businesses across the United States to join a national Thank You Movement for the members of our military and their immediate families, along with Veterans. Each business participant is providing a thank you gift, in the form of free services, goods, discounts, and various other offers. This year, Dr. Mullaney provided free dental services to veterans while LSNV and M-VETS promoted their pro bono legal services for veterans during this celebration. M-VETS Director, Timothy M. MacArthur, believes outreach at functions like Freedom Day USA celebrations are essential to promoting the M-VETS clinic. “These outreach opportunities provide a valuable learning experience to the student-advisors as they are able to learn more about our client population. Also, when we provide support at an event where we know a large number of veterans will be present we are able to promote our services and help a few more veterans,” MacArthur said.

Student-Advisor Josh Morrow commented: “The event was an insightful experience to how important these pro bono services are to our Veterans. More importantly, it allowed me and members of LSNV to talk with Veterans about pending legal issues they were going through and educate them on the legal services available to them. I hope events like this become more frequent so we can help our Veterans and continue to provide information about the legal services offered by M-VETS and LSNV.”

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.

A new American LEGION post will offer legal assistance for veterans with counselors from Mason’s law school

Local American Legion posts hopeful new law will boost membership ranks

Local American Legion posts hopeful new law will boost membership ranks
American Legion posts nationwide, including Post 180 in Vienna, will have the opportunity to gain more members because of a newly passed federal law. (Photo by Brian Trompeter)
Veterans previously could join the legion only if they served during periods of declared hostilities. Instead of six war eras, the new law permits American Legion membership in two eras: the period since Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, and the time between April 6, 1917, and Nov. 11, 1918, when the United States participated in World War I.

“After research and talking with families of those who died in the Cold War days, it gives closure to those who lost family members defending our country when it wasn’t called ‘war,’” he said.

Following the bill’s Senate passage in June, Sinema’s Website quoted Brett Reistad, who now is finishing up his stint as the American Legion’s national commander.

“The passage of the LEGION Act by the U.S. Senate is a clear message of the respect they hold for the American Legion,” said Reistad, a Manassas resident who belongs to American Legion Post 270 in McLean. “Passage of the LEGION Act will permit the American Legion to honor the military service of so many.”

Post 270’s current commander, Marshal Hyman, agreed the new law opens up membership options.

“I think there were people who wanted to be members and couldn’t qualify, and the American Legion wanted more members,” he said. “The rules are set by U.S. legislation and signed by the president.”

Post 270’s membership now stands at 370, although some members are not active, Hyman said. The post recently gained between 50 and 70 members because Post 18 in Washington, D.C., has been meeting at Vinson Hall Retirement Community in McLean and recently renewed its membership via Post 270.

“It is a bit early to tell, but [the LEGION Act] gives the American Legion a much larger population to draw from and many will want to join because they are now eligible,” said Post 270 member W. Glenn Yarborough Jr., who added the new law may boost the post’s membership by about 10 percent.

Congress chartered the American Legion in 1919. The federal government’s 12 formerly unrecognized war periods that involved active-duty U.S. military personnel, but precluded them from joining the legion, included:

• Greek Civil War (1946-1949).

• Chinese Civil War following World War II.

• China Cold War (ended in 1972).

• Cold War (1947-1991).

• Lebanon Crisis of 1958.

• Bay of Pigs invasion in Cuba (April 1961).

• Cuban Missile Crisis (Oct. 16 to 28, 1962).

• Dominican Civil War (1965).

• Iran Hostage Crisis (Nov. 4, 1979, through Jan. 20, 1981).

• Salvadoran Civil War (1980-1992).

• The bombing of La Belle discotheque in West Berlin, Germany, on April 5, 1986.

• Libyan Conflict (July 24, 1987, through Sept. 26, 1988).

The new law will aid the American Legion, which has been suffering from dwindling rolls in recent years, said Bob Romano, commander of Post 139 in Arlington.

Post 139 has had difficulty recruiting members who served in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, but the organization is taking several steps to improve that situation, he said.

The post, in collaboration with Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing, is finalizing the sale of its building at 3445 N. Washington Blvd., which will be knocked down early next year to make way for new post facility topped by about 160 affordable-housing units, half of which will be intended for veterans. That building is stated to open in spring 2021, Romano said.

The new post will be about half the size of the current one, but will be state-of-the-art and designed to attract younger, professional members, Romano said. The post also will offer legal assistance with counselors from the George Mason University Law School and provide employment assistance for veterans who’ve just finished active duty, he said.

Dellinger, who belongs to Post 180 in Vienna, said the group’s membership has grown over the past few decades to about 680 people. Under the new LEGION Act, the post now can recruit from a wider swath of veterans, he said.

“What veteran wouldn’t want to be a part of the nation’s largest [veterans service organization] that does so much to promote patriotism, assist our active duty and veterans, and the youth that is America’s future?” he asked.

Mason’s Scalia Law School is mentioned for partnering with American Legion Post 139 to provide legal advice to veterans

Veterans Have a Secret Weapon to Deal with Homelessness: Land. A unique partnership will convert an old American Legion Post into affordable housing for veterans.

July 11, 2019

ARLINGTON, Va.—When Bob Romano was installed as commander of American Legion Post 139 in 2014, his family attended the ceremony. Walking out of the veterans facility in Virginia Square, his wife turned to him and said, “I’m never going back in that building.”

Romano has known for some time that the 60-year-old building, its walls reeking of more than half a century of cigarette smoke and needing a laundry list of expensive repairs, would no longer sustain its 300 members. Membership was dwindling, particularly among young veterans.

“We were going broke,” he said. “We realized that in five years, Post 139 wasn’t going to be there.”

They received offers from developers eager to convert the property near George Mason University. But American Legion officials decided to do something that would be unique in the nation: create a partnership with a local housing nonprofit. In 2016, the Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing (APAH) bought the 1.4-acre parcel in Arlington for approximately $9 million.

“We were in a very unique situation where the land was worth a great investment,” Romano said. “And we invested it back into the veterans.”

The current building will be torn down in early 2020. In its place, APAH will build 160 units of affordable housing, half of which will go to homeless veterans. Post 139 will have its own space on the first floor of the quarters, with modernized facilities, Wi-Fi access, projector screens and multi-use halls. The plan is to open the residential units—APAH’s 17th property in Arlington—to applicants on a first-come basis in summer 2022.

“What’s really interesting to me is that here we are in Arlington, home of the Pentagon, Arlington Cemetery, Joint Base Henderson Hall-Fort Myer, and we have no active military presence really in the community,” said APAH CEO and President Nina Janopaul. “I’m old enough to remember when we didn’t celebrate our returning Vietnam veterans, and I think that as a nation, we really have pivoted on that. If we’re not happy with a conflict, we don’t blame it on the young men and women who served our nation.”

 

M-VETS Student-Advisor Blog Post Used As A Source By Military Times Article

A blog post written by a former Student-Advisor for the Mason Veterans and Servicemembers Legal Clinic (M-VETS) was cited in a recent article by Kyle Rempfer in the Military Times titled, “Service academy graduates could see longer military obligations.”

The article discusses a review by the Senate Armed Services Committee regarding the mandatory service requirements for graduates of the U.S. military academies.  Rempfer notes that the Committee will be examining the service requirements in light of the fact that those requirements have not changed in 20 years despite an increase in cost per graduate of nearly 20 percent.  In addition to the rising education costs, Rempfer noted the Committee’s concern regarding “recent studies suggest[ing] service academy graduates have lower junior officer retention rates than other officer commissioning sources.”  

The M-VETS Student-Advisor wrote the cited Blog post in May 2018, entitled “The Most Bang for your Buck: Are the United States Military Academies the Most Cost-Effective Way of Producing Officers?” The Blog post stated that the cost of a graduate of the U.S. military academies was four times as much as a graduate who earned their commission through the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) or Officer Training School (OTS) and questioned whether this increased cost was justified.  In his article, Rempfer cited the Student-Advisor Blog for this fact.  The Military Times article can be viewed at the following link: 

https://www.militarytimes.com/news/your-army/2019/07/15/service-academy-graduates-could-see-longer-military-obligations/       

Regarding the Student-Advisors Blog post being used as a source in the Military Times, M-VETS Director, Timothy MacArthur, stated:  “This is an incredible result for the Student-Advisor who wrote the Blog post.  The Military Times has a worldwide following and is a highly respected news outlet.  To be used as a source by a reputable author and/or organization is precisely the reason M-VETS has the requirement for Student-Advisors to write these articles.”

To read the Blog post written by this Student-Advisor, as well as other Student-Advisors posts, please visit the “Blog” page on the M-VETS website.

M-VETS Wins $15,000.00 in Disability Compensation for Former Army Special Forces Group Non-Commissioned Officer

The Antonin Scalia Law School Mason Veterans and Servicemembers Legal Clinic (“M-VETS”) secured Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA) disability compensation for a former Army Special Forces Non-Commissioned officer (NCO) Engineer. M-VETS argued in a Notice of Disagreement (NOD) filed with the DVA the former Special Forces NCO was entitled to service connection and disability payments for injuries caused by military service. While the DVA had previously denied disability compensation to the veteran, they agreed with the argument made by M-VETS and reversed their original denial for disability benefits. The initial disability payment exceeded $15,000.00 with an additional monthly award of $855.00. The monthly disability payment will continue for the rest of the former NCO’s lifetime.

The M-VETS client was a former member of an Army Special Forces Group while on active duty and in the Maryland National Guard. Notably, while on active duty the Special Forces Group NCO deployed to Iraq and Jordan on multiple occasions. Special Forces soldiers are trained to carry out complex missions including counterterrorism operations, guerrilla warfare, and efforts to train foreign fighters.

“I cannot express enough how grateful I am for the help of M-VETS. I didn’t think I would ever see this successfully resolved. GMU M-VETS made it happen. No question. Please accept my sincerest thanks,” said the Special Forces veteran. “For the sacrifices our client made in the military, I am really pleased with the outcome M-VETS was able to secure,” Timothy MacArthur, M-VETS Director said. “To serve as a soldier with Army Special Forces, with multiple overseas combat deployments, it is very challenging work which requires those soldiers to place other interests before their own. The fact that we were able to pursue our clients’ legal needs first hopefully paid a little bit of the debt we owe back to this veteran,” MacArthur said.

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.

Stepparent Adoption

In March 2019, the Mason Veterans and Servicemembers Legal Clinic successfully assisted an Army Officer in the adoption of the Officer’s two minor children by his current wife. M-VETS drafted all pleadings, orders, and affidavits necessary to complete the stepparent adoption as well as assisted the family in obtaining the required background check for the stepmother, now a mandatory requirement in Virginia stepparent adoptions.

“The process was perfectly handled by M-VETS and turned out to be a quick/painless process. Communication and oversight by Casey was excellent,” mentioned the Officer.

Student Advisor Casey Hunt worked on the matter from the initial intake assessment to drafting all necessary pleadings, orders and administrative forms to finalize the adoption. In doing so, she worked closely with the family to ensure that the adoption proceeded smoothly and efficiently.

“Stepparent adoptions are a wonderful service provided by the clinic and allow our students to gain practical experience drafting pleadings and other documents while helping a family become whole,” said M-VETS Deputy Director Leigh Winstead. “Casey did an outstanding job on this matter, finalizing what is usually a lengthy process in a very timely manner,” Winstead said.

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 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.