Sidley provides pro bono assistance to disabled veterans seeking fair and timely benefits from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the Armed Forces. Our lawyers represent veterans on claims for VA service-connected disability compensation at the agency and before federal courts and assist with applications for Combat-Related Special Compensation (CRSC) to the military and with petitions to military corrections boards for relief, such as discharge upgrades and military retirement. We work with individual veterans seeking benefits, as well as with veterans’ advocacy groups, to pursue systemic challenges — including handling five large class action cases in 2021.
Sidley achieved a significant pro bono win in the veterans’ benefits case of Soto v. United States. Soto was filed in federal district court in 2017 on behalf of approximately 9,000 Armed Forces veterans denied full Combat Related Special Compensation (CRSC) because the military illegally imposed a six-year ceiling on the amount it would pay in retroactive compensation.
On the strength of a briefing from the Sidley team, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas entered summary judgment on behalf of the class, ordering the military to make full payment to all veterans whose CRSC payment amounts were limited by improper application of the Barring Act and were owed less than $10,000. Sidley and the National Veterans Legal Services Program (NVLSP) are continuing the battle by filing a similar class action lawsuit in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims on behalf of veterans owed higher claims than can be given by the district court’s jurisdiction. Sidley Partner Simone Jones, who was the day-to-day lead on the case, said of the win:
“This win is particularly gratifying. My dad served in Vietnam and was known in our hometown as being a strong supporter of his fellow United States military veterans, assisting them with filing for and securing the benefits to which they were entitled. He passed away a few years ago, but this victory for thousands of deserving veterans — women and men injured while defending their country — is my way of continuing the important work that was near and dear to his heart.”
A Sidley team successfully represented a U.S. Navy veteran in petitioning the Board for Correction of Naval Records to retroactively upgrade his discharge status to Honorable. Despite an impeccable service record, our client was discharged from the Navy in the late-1990s under the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy simply because he is gay — he received a “general (under honorable conditions)” discharge. Discharge upgrade petitions are used to correct the record with respect to the Department of Defense’s previous reliance on a clearly discriminatory policy. The change to an Honorable discharge characterization makes our client eligible for GI Bill educational benefits and reduces barriers to employment.
Sidley helped a client who served in the U.S. Army and was deployed to Iraq in 2008. After multiple assaults by fellow soldiers and retaliation for reporting such assaults, together with combat exposure, he developed psychiatric symptoms.
Despite PTSD and major depression diagnoses from multiple caregivers, our client was separated from the Army due to an “adjustment disorder,” a diagnosis that made him ineligible for disability retirement benefits, and with discharge paperwork stating that he had a “condition, not a disability.” The Sidley team petitioned for relief to the Army Board for Correction of Military Records, which agreed that the veteran had been misdiagnosed and is owed a retroactive retirement and corresponding benefits. As is often the case, while the client appreciates the benefits, he was most happy that the Army ultimately recognized his disability and the fact that he should properly have been medically retired rather than separated for a “condition, not a disability.”
“Thank you for everything. Your understanding, patience, and expertise made this process much easier for me to deal with. I cannot express how happy I am with the outcome and how much it will help me moving forward after the betrayal I felt from the Army. I truly appreciate everything you’ve done and I don’t think the retirement would have been possible without you.”
— Sidley client and Army veteran
Sidley obtained a significant pro bono victory on behalf of a client who was sexually assaulted while serving in the U.S. Air Force. As a result of the assault, the client suffers from PTSD and major depressive disorder. The VA initially assigned the veteran a 50% disability rating, which includes an award of only US$905 per month. The Sidley team appealed the decision, arguing that the veteran had more severe symptoms than the 50% rating reflected (including symptoms that made it difficult to work) and was eligible for a higher rating and Total Disability due to Individual Unemployability. Just two weeks after the filing, the VA granted the veteran’s appeal, which resulted in a payment increase to US$3,146 per month going forward and over US$200,000 in back pay.