Thursday, November 4, 2021

Advocate: Government not keeping its promise to veterans


The United States government owes a debt to its veterans for their service to the country, said Bart Stichman, special counsel to the not-for-profit National Veterans Legal Services Program.

"Unfortunately, the government has not kept that promise since the Vietnam War," Stichman said.

He was the keynote speaker for Friday's symposium on veterans' issues presented by the University of Missouri School of Law Veterans Clinic: "Pushing the Envelope: Firsts in Advocacy for America's Heroes."

"The government made the decision not to pay the cost of war" after Vietnam, Stichman said.

His organization was able to get upgrades to discharges for more than 7,000 Vietnam veterans who received "less than honorable" discharges.

Those with less than honorable discharges aren't eligible for Veterans Affairs benefits, and have a stigma attached to them that hurts job prospects.

The government lowered its requirements for military service to get more bodies to Vietnam and were surprised when not all performed well, he said.

"No other employer grades your performance when you leave and says you're undesirable," Stichman said.

Veterans were helped by the repeal of two laws, he said. One was a law that barred them from appealing VA denials to federal courts, resulting in 1988 in the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims.

The NVLSP has filed more than 5,000 appeals in the court, he said.

The other law repealed was an 1862 law that made it a federal crime for lawyers to charge more than $10 to represent a veteran in a claim.

"Probably our greatest victory has been the 1989 Nehmer case," Stichman said.

It dealt with veterans who had negative health effects from exposure to Agent Orange, a chemical defoliant used heavily in Vietnam.


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