Justice for Warriors Newsletter
April 2022
In October 2021, NVLSP launched the Burn Pits Claims Assistance Program (Burn Pits CAP) to assist veterans exposed to toxic emissions from burn pits while serving overseas by representing them on claims for disability benefits before the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
Open air burn pits located near military bases were commonly used by the U.S. military departments in Southwest Asia to dispose of assorted waste and other matter. The Department of Defense and the VA agree that the smoke and fumes emitted from these burn pits contained numerous toxic chemicals. Over 240,000 veterans and service members have documented their exposure in the VA’s Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry. Despite its recognition that burn pits located on numerous military bases emitted toxic chemicals, the VA has thus far denied over 75% of the disability claims based on burn pit exposure. 
If you or someone you know served on a base where burn pits were used to dispose of paint, medical/human waste, metals, plastics, rubber, etc., and you are currently seeking service-connected compensation for a condition, respiratory or otherwise, that you believe resulted from your exposure to these burn pits, NVLSP may be able to help. Please visit program webpage for details and read our program announcement.
Outside of the program, NVLSP is also a steadfast advocate for legislation that would grant presumptive coverage for veterans with burn pits exposure. In February 2022, NVLSP joined over 40 veterans and military service groups in a letter to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy seeking bipartisan support to pass the burn pits legislation, Honoring Our PACT Act (H.R. 3967). In April 2022, NVLSP continued its efforts to advance Honoring Our Pact Act in a letter with more than 60 veterans and military service organizations to Senate Majority Leader Schumer and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell urging swift passage of this critical legislation. 
NVLSP’s Co-Founder and Special Counsel, Bart Stichman, was interviewed on Federal News Network on burn pits legislation. Click here to listen to the interview or read the transcript.
NVLSP Director of Litigation Renée Burbank offered her insight on WAVY 10 on the devastating impact on veterans of VA Caregiver rule changes. Check out Renee’s comments here.
Renée was a panelist at Georgetown University’s March 2022 virtual event, “The Neglected Voices of Military Veterans Worldwide.” Click here to view the event’s webpage and recording.
CVLC and NVLSP Sue the U.S. Navy For Due Process Violations and Failure to Give Black Veterans a Fair Chance at Discharge Upgrades
On April 5, the Veterans Inclusion Project of the Connecticut Veterans Legal Center, with the assistance of NVLSP, filed a complaint in the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut on behalf of former U. S. Marine Michael Lomax. Mr. Lomax was unfairly discharged with an “Other Than Honorable” character of service due to his race, his experience of military sexual trauma, and the mental health conditions that resulted from these experiences. However, when he applied for an upgrade to an “Honorable” discharge, the Board of Corrections for Naval Records, which considers applications from the Marines, refused to consider the impact of racial bias on his mental health or disciplinary record. It also refused to share with Mr. Lomax or his counsel two “mental health advisory opinions” which it relied on in denying his application. Click here to learn more.
Covington and NVLSP Sue the U.S. Navy For Thwarting Navy and Marine Corps Reservists Access To Disability
On March 10, 2022, Covington & Burling LLP, in coordination with NVLSP, filed a class action complaint in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, to ensure that Navy and Marine Reservists with service-connected injuries are able to access their earned disability retirement benefits. Click here to learn more.
NVLSP and Veterans Advocacy Groups File Amicus Brief Calling on U.S. Supreme Court to Ensure Veterans Can Challenge VA Decisions Based on Plainly Unlawful Regulations
On March 7, 2022 NVLSP filed a “friend of the Court” brief in George v. McDonough, urging the United States Supreme Court to reverse the Federal Court’s ruling that the petitioner could not challenge a Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) decision that applied a statutory interpretation that a court later determined was plainly unlawful. National Organization of Veterans’ Advocates (NOVA) Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA), and Service Women’s Action Network (SWAN) joined NVLSP to file the brief as amici curiae, or friends of the Court. Read more here.
NVLSP and Veterans Services Organizations File Amicus Brief Calling on U.S. Supreme Court to Uphold Antidiscrimination Rights of Service Members and Veterans
On February 2022, NVLSP filed a “friend of the Court” brief in Torres v. Texas Department of Public Safety, urging the United States Supreme Court to uphold the constitutionality of the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA), which protects service members and veterans from employment discrimination based on their military service or on disabilities related to their service. A Texas state court had eliminated USERRA’s right of action against state government employers, effectively eliminating the law’s protections for hundreds of thousands of veterans and noncareer service members who work for state governments. Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA), Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), and Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) joined NVLSP to file the brief as amici curiae, or friends of the Court. Learn more.
On March 22, 2022, the VA announced that it would halt certain dismissals from the Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers (PCAFC or Caregiver Program) program while they review eligibility requirements. Click here to view the press conference.

In 2010, Congress passed the “Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act of 2011” (“Caregiver Act”). The Caregiver Act required VA to establish a comprehensive program to benefit family caregivers of eligible veterans who have had a serious injury incurred in the line of duty after September 11, 2001, and who require caregiving assistance in their daily lives.
In 2018, Congress expanded the Caregiver Act (through the VA MISSION Act) to add eligibility for additional veterans who incurred a serious injury in the line of duty before September 11, 2001. Instead of expanding eligibility based on the VA MISSION Act, the VA narrowed the eligibility criteria for the Caregiver Program through a new regulation implemented in 2020 by limiting the number of veterans who would qualify for benefits as well as the amount of the benefits for those eligible veterans.
Many veterans service organizations expressed concerns regarding the program’s revised eligibility requirements. In May 2020, NVLSP and Veteran Warriors filed 33-page comments that offered a detailed review of the proposed changes and underscore Congress's original intent with the Caregiver Program. Read the document hereWhen VA’s final rule did not address NVLSP and Veteran Warriors’ concerns, Veteran Warriors challenged the rule in court, represented by NVLSP and pro bono counsel at Sidley Austin LLP. In March 2022, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit agreed that one of the new eligibility criteria violated the law and overturned that part of the regulation, though it deferred to VA on the other challenged aspects of the rule. Read the court’s decision here
NVLSP, Public Counsel and Paul Hastings LLP Announce Launch of Appeals Process Website For Veterans and Family Caregivers
For years, VA refused to allow applicants to appeal decisions outside VA’s health care system. In April 2021, the landmark case Beaudette v. McDonough won the right for veterans and caregivers to appeal Caregiver Program decisions to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals (BVA or Board). As part of their role as Beaudette class counsel, in December 2021, NVLSP, Public Counsel and pro bono counsel Paul Hastings LLP, established a website to provide information to seriously disabled veterans and their family caregivers about how to navigate appeals of benefits decisions under the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers (PCAFC or Caregiver Program).

The website https://www.vacaregiverclassaction.com/ provides important information about the class action lawsuit, the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims decision and how to appeal Caregiver Program decisions.
­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­UPCOMING LIVE WEBINAR
­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­NVLSP continues its dedication to veteran law education by growing its webinar schedule in an effort to educate more veterans advocates on strategies for securing disability benefits for their clients. Experienced NVLSP attorneys will lead discussions on the following topics: 

NVLSP also has a comprehensive library of over 20 previously recorded webinars that are available at your convenience. 

NVLSP's Training & Publications program also offers: in-person training, the Online Basic Training Course, the Veterans Benefits Manual, and the VA Benefit Identifier App.
NVLSP has recently updated our VA Benefit Identifier App which is available on NVLSP’s website, Apple Store, or Google Play Store.
New updates include:
  • Help you identify if you are eligible for benefits due to Particulate Matter Exposure from military service in SW Asia Theater of Operations, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Syria, and Djibouti.
  • Help you determine if you are eligible for service connection benefits for one of the three 3 new presumptive disabilities related to Agent Orange Exposure.
Updates have been made in both the English and Spanish versions of the App.
Renée Burbank
Renée Burbank joined NVLSP in July 2021. As Director of Litigation, Renée supervises individual lawsuits brought by NVLSP in U.S. district courts, Article III court of appeals, and the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, as well as all of NVLSP’s class actions and other law reform cases.

Renée believes it is a legal and moral imperative that veterans receive their benefits and that the government is held accountable, especially when veterans have been disabled by their service to our country. For Renée, NVLSP is unique as its work spans the breadth and depth of veterans law; NVLSP is out front, leading the way.

As Director of Litigation, Renée aims to expand NVLSP’s high impact class actions and legal advocacy on behalf of veterans. Renée intends to ensure no potential opportunity and strategy to advocate for the needs of veterans is left on the table.

Prior to NVLSP, Renée spent 8 years at the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). At the DOJ, Renée had a wide-ranging case load in commercial litigation, including military pay and veterans cases. It was at the DOJ that Renée first learned about veterans law and about NVLSP. Renée also worked for nearly 3 years as Clinical Lecturer in Law, Research Scholar in Law and Robert M. Cover Clinical Teaching Fellow at the Yale Law School’s Veterans Legal Services Clinic. During this time, Renée represented individual veterans; these were clients that the system left behind and Renée felt a deep responsibility and honor to represent them.

Without a first-hand connection to the military, Renée first learned about the extent of the problems facing veterans while at the DOJ. Renée appreciates that her day-to-day work has the potential to change the lives of veterans.

A fun fact about Renée, she has been brushing up on her American Sign Language.
We hope this newsletter inspires you to become more active with NVLSP. If you want to help NVLSP do more for our veterans, here are a few suggestions.

  1. You can follow us on Twitter, connect with us on LinkedIn, and like us on Facebook.
  2. Help us promote our free App for veterans.
  3. Tell a friend about NVLSP.

We look forward to connecting with you again soon!