Veterans Get Help They Need - DC News FOX 5 DC WTTG

Veterans Get Help They Need

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Military veterans who are battling the U.S. Veterans Administration for benefits may not realize they've got an invaluable resource in the Delaware Valley.  Widener Law School established the first Veterans Law Clinic in the nation, and is helping veterans get what is due them.

Lloyd Waters is a paraplegic:  he has no use of his arms or legs, and is confined to his wheelchair.  A botched surgery put him there.  "They allowed a second-year medical student to operate on him, and she failed to close up the dura in the spinal cord," explained Beverly Waters, Lloyd Waters wife.

Waters is a Navy veteran, so he had the surgery at a VA hospital a decade ago. But he received no compensation until just a few months ago, and only after he and his wife sought help from the Widener University Veterans Law Clinic.

"It shouldn't take a lawyer six years to navigate a client through this system in order to get them the benefits that we as a country have promised them," Professor Justin Holbrook insisted.  Holbrook is the director of Widener's Veterans Law Clinic.  But for many desperate veterans, the Law Clinic is their last hope.  "We couldn't have done it without them," Beverly Waters told Fox 29.  "There's just no way.  We wouldn't have won any money.  We would have been at the mercy of the VA." 

The clinic doesn't charge veterans a penny, nor does it take a cut when the VA finally pays up.  Student volunteers do much of the work.  Judd Smith is a second-year law student who is also a Marine veteran.  Smith served two tours of duty in Iraq.  "Veterans need help," Smith said.  "The system is very complex.  There's a lot of rules, a lot of regulations that are not so transparent, not easy to find."

Erica Sharp agreed.  Sharp is a third-year law student at Widener, who said she was shocked when she learned of the delays facing veterans who apply to the VA for assistance.  "It's sad more than anything that veterans who've served our country or still serving our country are not getting the attention that they need," Sharp said.

Because of the law clinic, the Waters now have a new van to accommodate the wheelchair.  And the once middle-class couple no longer live near poverty, as they have since the surgery.

The problem:  for every successful case like Lloyd Waters' there are at least ten other veterans who need help.  But there's no way the law clinic can accommodate everybody.  Professor Holbrook says the problem may persist for another 50 years, unless the problems within the system are fixed.

There is a waiting list for veterans who request help from the Law Clinic, and not everyone will receive assistance.  The program that Widener originated in 1997 has been replicated at a dozen other law schools.  But Widener is hoping the concept will expand further to other law schools across the country.

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