Case Spotlight

Veterans Advocacy

In 2022 Sidley worked with individual veterans seeking benefits, as well as with veterans’ advocacy groups to pursue systemic challenges — including handling 115+ individual matters and four class actions totaling over 10,000 hours and serving thousands of veterans.

Victory for LGBTQ+ Veteran

Sidley recently secured a significant pro bono victory on behalf of a veteran discharged from the U.S. Marine Corps in 1996 under the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that discriminated against LGBTQ+ service members. The veteran had disclosed his sexual orientation while seeking mental health treatment. His discharge paperwork, which he continually needed to present in order to access veterans’ benefits and services, explicitly indicated his sexual orientation as the reason for his discharge. After the veteran sought assistance through a clinic run by Sidley, the National Veterans Legal Service Program (NVLSP), and a firm client, Sidley took on the case and successfully petitioned the Board for Correction of Naval Records to change the discharge paperwork, removing all references to sexual orientation and issuing replacement documentation confirming his honorable service.

Two Major Wins for Veterans and Caregivers

Working again with the NVLSP, Sidley teams achieved two major wins on behalf of veterans. The first case involved the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers (PCAFC), which provides compensation to family members who serve as caregivers to a veteran and who meet certain criteria. In 2020, the VA implemented a new regulation that dramatically curtailed the program and would have pushed out many already in the PCAFC. Sidley and NVLSP challenged the new regulation at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in a case styled, Veteran Warriors, Inc. v. Sec’y of Veterans Affairs. The Federal Circuit granted relief in part, invalidating portions of the new regulation. In the fall of 2022, the VA announced that it was putting any changes to the program on hold until September 30, 2025 for everyone who was in the program as of September 30, 2020 or applied by October 1, 2020, and was eventually admitted. Thousands of veterans and caregivers will have at least three years of reprieve and won’t be pushed out of the program based on their original reassessments under the 2020 regulation. In its filing, the VA acknowledged that that these changes were a result of the ruling in Veteran Warriors.

“This is a step in the right direction that will afford veterans and caregivers some very valuable peace of mind as VA reassesses their cases and conducts program improvements,” said NVLSP Director of Litigation Renee Burbank.

In a second case at the Federal Circuit, a Sidley team secured a hard-fought victory on behalf of veterans who have incurred coinsurance costs for emergency medical care, which the VA improperly refused to reimburse. In October 2022, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit granted a motion for expedited disposition in favor of the veterans, invalidating a VA regulation that prohibited compensation owed to veterans who required and received emergency care at non-VA hospitals. The court also rejected the VA’s mootness arguments, and directed the VA to engage in expedited rulemaking within 120 days.

“The Court’s ruling is a huge victory for veterans and their families. Veterans have waited long enough and endured great financial hardships waiting to be reimbursed for these expenses.”
— Bart Stichman, NVLSP Co-Founder and Special Counsel

Discharge Upgrade Wins

Sidley won multiple victories on discharge upgrade matters in 2022, including three on cases taken after clinic collaborations with Sidley and in-house lawyers from a financial services client. One discharge upgrade case for a client kicked out of the Navy after eating a marijuana-laced cookie while on leave in order to help her sleep had a telephonic hearing in June 2022 before a Navy panel. The client’s Other Than Honorable (OTH) discharge characterization was upgraded to General later that summer, making her eligible for numerous benefits. In November 2022, a Marine Corps veteran who was discharged with an OTH after he experienced combat stress and then misbehaved, won an upgrade to General. In December 2022, another Marine Corps veteran won an upgrade of his OTH discharge all the way to Honorable, making him now eligible for the VA benefits he had been seeking since the early 1990s.

How Sidley’s Veterans Advocacy Project Stands Up for Vets

Applying for military or VA disability benefits can be a massive administrative and emotional undertaking. Understanding that struggle, Sidley’s pro bono practice has long been dedicated to representing veterans in pursuit of their hard-earned medical and disability benefits from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and Department of Defense.

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