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Veterans Law Clinic Secures Extraordinary Victory

5/19/2020

Delaware Law School’s Veterans Law Clinic recently secured an award of over $400,000 for the widow of a Vietnam combat veteran after years of persistent litigation against the Veterans Administration. This brings the Clinic's total amount recovered on behalf of Veterans to $13,314,847.

The client, a low-income widow of a Vietnam combat veteran who passed away in 1994, came to the Veterans Law Clinic in 2003 and was first assisted by Professor Emeritus Thomas Reed and, later, former clinic director Justin Holbrook. She filed a claim for what's called Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC), a type of survivor benefit offered to qualifying spouses of deceased veterans, but the VA denied her initial application for benefits as well as subsequent applications.

Current clinic director Jennifer Morell took over the case and in 2015, aided by law student interns, she filed a first appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals of Veterans Claims (CAVC) on a procedural issue. The CAVC vacated the VA decision and remanded the matter. The Clinic filed an application for attorney’s fees under the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA), and despite VA opposition, the Clinic was awarded $8,456.25 in fees.

Gabriel Griffith, A Delaware Law School Clinic intern, researched and drafted a fantastic brief in response to the VA's opposition. On remand, the VA continued its denial of benefits, so again the Clinic appealed to the CAVC in 2017, this time on the substantive issue. In a September 2018 decision, the CAVC again vacated the VA's decision, the judge calling the underlying decision at issue "quite frankly, terrible, even reprehensible." The Clinic again filed for attorneys’ fees, this time receiving $9,512.25 for its work. On remand, the VA in May 2019 finally admitted error in a 1986 decision, which paved the way for the Clinic’s client being deemed eligible for DIC benefits.  Nearly one year after the May 2019 VA decision, the client received her retroactive award of $400,247.52 covering benefits back to the year her husband passed, and she will now receive $1,624.71 per month, tax-free. She is of the age that these benefits will continue for the remainder of her life, even if she were to remarry.

“Congratulations on this excellent example of the great work our Clinic does to achieve justice for deserving veterans and their families, including Jennifer, Professor Reed, Justin Holbrook, and the numerous Delaware Law students who have provided invaluable assistance over the years.  Much gratitude also goes to the Delaware Commission of Veterans Affairs, which continues to support the Clinic’s mission through an annual grant,” said Dean Rod Smolla.