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Justice for Warriors Newsletter
February 2020 

NVLSP Files Class Action Lawsuit Accusing U.S. Military Departments of Violating the Rights of Veterans to Timely Decisions on Their Life-Changing Applications to Correct Military Records

On December 16, 2019, The National Veterans Legal Services Program (NVLSP), together with Mr. Walter Calhoun and Mr. John Doe, filed  a class action lawsuit accusing the U.S. Departments of the Army, Navy, and Air Force of consistently failing to meet their legal requirements to timely decide claims filed by veterans and servicemembers for correction of their individual military records as mandated by Congress. The lawsuit, filed with the pro bono assistance of Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP, asserts that the law (10 U.S.C ยง 1557), requires the Army, Navy, and Air Force Boards for Correction of Military Records (BCMRs) to make decisions on all applications within 18 months of receipt and the BCMRs have admitted that over the last few years they have been violating this 18-month timeliness requirement. According to the complaint, the lack of timeliness violates the law, the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), and the due process rights of the adversely affected veterans and servicemembers under the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Read more
NVLSP Sues U.S. Military Departments For Removing From Public View All Past Decisions of the Discharge Review Boards and Boards for Correction of Military Records

On January 2, 2020, the National Veterans Legal Services Program (NVLSP) sued the U.S. Military  for unlawfully removing from public view all of the past decisions made by all Discharge Review Boards (DRBs) and Boards for Correction of Military Records (BCMRs). Approximately two weeks later, the Pentagon contacted NVLSP and agreed to our terms. The Pentagon outlined a publication schedule for the board decisions. Based on this agreement, NVLSP withdrew its motion for preliminary injunction but the lawsuit remained pending. On January 31, 2020, the Pentagon did an about face and reneged on the terms of our agreement, so NVLSP filed a renewed motion for injunction on February 3, 2020.   
Lawmakers recognized the importance of these two lawsuits for veterans and their families to receive the life-changing benefits that they are due. Sen. Baldwin (D-Wisc.), along with 10 other senators, wrote the military on January 22, 2020 demanding answers on both of the aforementioned cases. 

Veterans Court Rejects VA's Motion to Postpone Reimbursing Veterans for Emergency Medical Expenses Until VA's Appeal to the Federal Circuit is Decided

In the matter of Wolfe v. Wilkie, on January 24, 2020, the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims (CAVC) unanimously denied the VA's motion to stay VA's obligation to implement the CAVC's decision requiring VA to reimburse veterans for emergency medical expenses incurred at non-VA facilities that are not covered by the veteran's private insurance. The VA's motion sought to allow it to withhold all reimbursement payments from veterans until the VA appeals the CAVC's Wolfe decision to a higher court and obtains a decision from that court -- a period that is likely to take at least one year. Read more

Associated Press Reporter Ben Finley interviewed NVLSP's Executive Director Bart Stichman on NVLSP's January 2, 2020 complaint. The article drew nationwide media coverage including   ABC News, WTOP-FM (7:50 time marker) and numerous other publications. We also conducted a radio interview on  Federal News Network (2:08 time marker). 

NVLSP also pursued justice on a broader front in a class action lawsuit that we brought with the National Consumer Law Center and Alliance for Justice regarding the excessive fees charged through the federal judiciary's Public Access to Court Records (PACER) system. The oral arguments took place on February 3, 2020 and the case captured lots of media attention before and after including Bloomberg Law ,
Training & Publications

Webinars 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. During Spring 2020, 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. 

In-Person Training: NVLSP offers in-person training in veterans law for a variety of organizations coast-to-coast. NVLSP provides training to national veterans service organizations, state veterans agencies, attorney groups, and other organizations. 

Online Basic Training Course: The Online Basic Training Course is designed for anyone who helps veterans and their family members obtain benefits from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The course is also useful in making claimants more informed about their VA benefits. The team is currently in the process of updating the course.

Veterans Benefits Manual: This exhaustive manual is an indispensable guide for advocates who help veterans and their families obtain benefits from the VA. Written by practicing lawyers at NVLSP, this manual contains valuable insight and analysis from a team of experts on the front line of veterans law.

VA Benefit Identifier App: NVLSP's VA Benefit Identifier is a first-of-its-kind app that aids service members and veterans in determining the specific VA benefits to which they may be entitled. Available in English and Spanish, the app is available through the NVLSP website, Apple App Store, and the Google Play Store. To protect privacy, no data or personal information is retained.
Richard Spataro

Richard Spataro is the Director of Training and Publications at NVLSP. In this position, Rick manages all aspects of the Training and Publications Department, including: developing and conducting in-person training programs and creating training materials; coordinating NVLSP's webinar training series; overseeing the annual production, as well as acting as one of the authors and editors, of NVLSP's
Veterans Benefits Manual; and updating the content of NVLSP's Online Basic Training Course. Rick also trains and mentors attorneys who volunteer for The Veterans Consortium Pro Bono Program.

The most important aspect of Rick's position is being a force multiplier. NVLSP's trainings help veterans service officers, attorneys, and claims agents better understand the nuances of veterans benefits law. This allows them help more veterans receive the benefits to which they are entitled as quickly as possible. "The more tools we can give to veterans service officers, the better. They are the soldiers on the ground helping veterans navigate the complicated VA claims system."

Rick aims for the Training and Publications program to keep growing by reaching more veterans advocates and continuously improving its products to make veterans law easier to understand.

Rick first joined NVLSP as a law clerk in 2004 and, after finishing law school, became an NVLSP staff attorney in 2005. For nearly 5 years, Rick served as the managing attorney of NVLSP's Nehmer Lawsuit Division. He has also represented over 400 veterans and survivors of veterans before the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims.

Across his work at NVLSP, Rick finds that the most rewarding aspect is fighting and remedying the VA system's injustices so that veterans can get all of the benefits they deserve, either through his own representation of individual veterans or by training others to help veterans.

Prior to joining the legal field, Rick served as a Surface Warfare Officer in the United States Navy. He earned his commission through the Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps program at Duke University. He spent four years on active duty, serving first as the Auxiliaries Officer of the USS Vella Gulf and then as the Navigator of the USS Mount Whitney.

Outside NVLSP, Rick enjoys spending time with his family and coaching youth ice hockey.


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!