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Senators pushing to support Veterans Affairs legal clinics

By DAVE RESS | Daily Press | Published: May 13, 2021

(Tribune News Service) — The Department of Veterans Affairs would give a boost to legal clinics that help veterans with their benefits, under a bill sponsored by Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia.

Clinics like the Lewis B. Puller, Jr. Veterans Benefits Clinic housed at the College of William & Mary provide free help to veterans running into red tape that block or delay access to VA benefits. Warner’s bill, which he and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., introduced this week, authorizes the VA to grant up to $2 million a year to support such clinics.

In those clinics, student volunteers who are supervised by attorneys provide free help with disability claims, foreclosures, bankruptcies, divorce, child custody and some minor criminal cases. The clinics have helped whittle down the backlogs that delay complicated benefits claims, by turning the VA’s most time-consuming cases into organized applications that are significantly easier to process.

Their services, including expedited claims assistance and legal counsel, give veterans an opportunity to address challenges before they deteriorate, often resulting in significant long-term savings to the government. The clinics have also helped address the problem of veterans’ homelessness.

The Puller clinic, named for the Marine Corps veteran, attorney and W&M undergraduate and law school alumnus who won the 1992 Pulitzer prize for his autobiography Fortunate Son, and who died of a self-inflicted wound in 1994, has helped veterans secure more than $54 million in projected lifetime benefits since its founding in 2008.

Warner’s legislation would help it expand its efforts as it educates future lawyers and encourages a public service spirit, said Michael Dick, the retired Marine colonel who serves as the clinic’s co-director.

“It’s an unfortunate reality that too many of our nation’s veterans encounter bureaucratic obstacles in accessing the assistance or benefits they’ve rightfully earned. In order to help address these challenges, veterans legal clinics have stepped in to provide free quality legal services to help veterans cut through the red tape,” Warner said.

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