Our firm has a longstanding commitment to support and advocate on behalf of active-duty service members and veterans. In the US, for example, we partner with the National Veterans Legal Services Program’s (NVLSP) Lawyers Serving Warriors Program. Over the past decade, more than 650 Latham lawyers across 22 offices have taken on over 315 matters, ensuring service members and their families receive the benefits to which they are entitled.
Our work with NVLSP takes several forms, including counseling those with service-related injuries, representing service members and veterans who are seeking a military retirement, and undertaking investigative reports examining deficiencies in the system established to support veterans. In addition, we advise veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan who have medically retired with combat-related disabilities and are eligible for combat-related special compensation. This lifetime benefit can provide hundreds of dollars per month — a critical lifeline for veterans who are unable to work because of their combat injuries.
We also appeal disability ratings of veterans before the Physical Disability Board of Review, the individual branches of the armed services, and the federal courts. Disability ratings determine whether the service member, upon retirement, will receive a lump-sum severance payment or lifelong retirement benefits. Because veterans are not provided legal representation before the board, our lawyers step in to help clients navigate the claims and appeals processes.
One of our current clients is an honorably discharged, combat-wounded Marine seeking to have his military records corrected to reflect a disability retirement. Our client suffered a traumatic brain injury in an IED attack in Afghanistan. Despite years of medical treatment for his debilitating symptoms, the military never referred him for disability evaluation. The military corrections board denied his petition for a disability retirement, and we appealed this decision to the US Court of Federal Claims. At the hearing, the court called our client a “hero” and strongly encouraged the federal government to settle. The federal government agreed to a remand, and our team is in process of drafting our petition to the board.
Another client is an Army Hawk Fire Control crewman who experienced hazing attacks in basic training and during deployment. To escape his tormentors, the crewman went absent without leave, resulting in a discharge characterization of “other than honorable.” With the assistance of NVLSP, our lawyers were able to obtain an independent medical opinion from a psychologist that stated the crewman suffered from PTSD, which directly contributed to his decision to go absent without leave. As a result, the veteran’s discharge was upgraded to fully honorable, making him eligible for VA disability compensation and other VA benefits.
Latham’s work on behalf of veterans also extends to high-impact litigation. In Washington, D.C., a team secured a victory for the National Organization of Veterans Advocates (NOVA) and three of its members in NOVA v. Secretary of Veterans Affairs. The successful outcome ensured that veterans who have undergone knee replacement surgery as a result of their service are able to receive the benefits to which they are entitled under governing regulations. The decision will also have wide-ranging impacts for other US veterans, as it confirms that the VA cannot attempt to alter those regulations, and deny veterans’ claims for benefits, through dubious interpretive rules that depart from traditional principles of administrative law.
We also advise nonprofits that directly engage with service members, veterans, and their families. In Paris, for example, our lawyers provide pro bono support to Hypérion Défense, a French nonprofit association that aims to assist veterans as well as members and former members of fire departments, police departments, and emergency services organizations with their needs.