UNIVERSITY PARK, PA.—The Penn State Law Veterans and Servicemembers Legal Clinic recently won two appeals for a Vietnam veteran, including an increase from 10 to 50 percent for a post-traumatic stress (PTS) disability rating and a 100 percent rating for three months for a myocardial infarction.
Clinic students worked on the heart rating appeal at the beginning of the semester with a favorable result issued just a few months later. Additionally, clinic students are working on another rare form of “clear and unmistakable error” (CUE) appeal for this same Vietnam veteran whose first claim for PTS was denied in 1994.
Another clinic client, a Gulf War veteran, also had his claim for PTS and Gulf War syndrome denied in the same year, so Penn State Law students are working on a similar CUE brief in his case.
Penn State Law’s veterans clinic has experience with these types of appeals, as its biggest win was a CUE for a veteran harmed by the U.S. government’s chemical warfare testing in 1965 at the Army’s Edgewood Arsenal facility located in the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland.
Tom DiSalvi, a Penn State Law student, has been working on the Gulf War veteran’s claims and appeals.
“Before I took this (clinic) class, I had no idea how crucial it is for each veteran to have an advocate as a guide through the VA process,” DiSalvi observed. “I am grateful that I saw how necessary having someone who can invest time and resources into your case is to a veteran’s physical and mental health.”
Kenzie Selleg and Agneta Hendershot, both second-year students at Penn State Law, are helping two Vietnam veteran clients who lost their initial appeals for acute myeloid leukemia and urothelial cell carcinoma. Although the clinic submitted legal arguments, as well as medical research and treating physician nexus opinions to support those initial appeals, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ regional office denied both claims because the VA has not recognized the diseases as presumptively connected to the benzene contaminant in Agent Orange. Both law students have been writing appellate briefs to the Board of Veterans Appeals, conducting new medical and legal research, and retained nationally renowned medical oncologists to assist their clients.
“It was exciting to write a letter to a medical expert because it was so different from anything that I have ever done,” Selleg said. “In law school and in my internship over the summer, my prior experience involved writing for other audiences: student, professor, judge, superior, or client.”
The wife of the Vietnam veteran with acute myeloid leukemia made a donation to the clinic this fall--while her appeal is still pending--to thank the students for their hard work. The oncologist who wrote the treating physician opinion for that Vietnam veteran has referred several more of his cancer patients to the clinic for assistance.
Chris Raqueno, a second-year Penn State Law student, noted that, “although the clinic is very challenging, it is worthwhile to help these veterans who may not have another place to turn.”
Raqueno is helping a National Guard member with an appeal for knee injuries that has been remanded from the Board of Veterans Appeals to the regional office for further review. He is also helping another Vietnam veteran from New Jersey with his increased disability rating claim for peripheral neuropathy.
Recently, the clinic was able to expand its outreach efforts and the number of clients directly assisted through the hire of Penn State Law alumnus and local attorney, Todd Ciancarelli, who joined the team as a part-time clinic staff attorney.
Ciancarelli is assisting Vietnam veterans with a hearing loss appeal, several expungements, and a leukemia appeal for the wife of a deceased veteran in Nebraska who read about the clinic’s leukemia expertise in a recent edition of Penn State News.
This fall, other clinic clients include another Gulf War veteran filing a back-pay military retirement claim for TBI injuries, and the wife of a twenty-year Air Force veteran who lost his initial appeal for leukemia and peripheral neuropathy.
Penn State Law students will meet veterans and servicemembers on Nov. 16 at the eighth annual Military Appreciation Game Tailgate before the Penn State Nittany Lions face the Indiana Hoosiers football team at Beaver Stadium. Prior to the game, Professor Vollmer will discuss ”Healing the Wounds of War by Training the Next Generation of Lawyers to Assist Veterans,” as a featured speaker at the Penn State Alumni Association’s Huddle with the Faculty series, which takes place at 9 a.m. at the Nittany Lion Inn.
Throughout the year, the Penn State Law Veterans and Servicemembers Legal Clinic will offer free legal consultations to veterans and servicemembers at a Starbucks store located on North Atherton Street in State College as part of the company’s nationwide Military Mondays Program. Military Mondays will be held the second Monday of every month at the Starbucks located at 2030 North Atherton Street. For more info or to register, visit the event website.