New partnership to provide veterans with free lawyers to pursue denied claims

It’s a milestone a decade in the making. The Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs has launched a new partnership with the National Veterans Legal Services Program (NVLSP), which will provide families with free lawyers as they try to get benefits they may be owed.

“It’s really a game changer,” said Ron Quade, the director of veteran services for MDVA. “It’s a service we’ve always dreamed of being able to provide.”

He explained it’s an option once a claim is denied by the Board of Veterans Appeals, which is the highest authority within the U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs.

“Until this agreement, we’ve had to advise Minnesotans and their families to go seek services, legal services independently,” said Quade. “Unfortunately, we have folks that during these processes decide they no longer want to pursue the benefits they may be entitled to.”

It’s a complicated and lengthy process that can take years.

Now, NVLSP will review the cases. If they find an error, the national non-profit will send a letter offering to represent the veteran or their family in an appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims.

“If I got a letter from someone saying ‘Oh I can represent you in a court for free to help you get benefits’, I would be wondering there’s some catch, right? Well there is no catch here,” said Rick Spataro, the director of training and publications for NVLSP. “If you get a letter from us, from NVLSP, that says we found an error in a board decision, we really hope you’ll contact us.”

According to Spataro, they have a team of more than 40 attorneys who are ready to help.

“There is a timeline,” he said. “There is a four-month deadline to the court, so we have to act pretty quickly, and as soon as we identify an error, we will send that veteran a letter.”

Spataro expects most of the cases will be related to service-connected disabilities, which can be more complicated.

“We really want to make sure the VA gets it right, that the veterans get everything they’re entitled to,” said Spataro, who served four years active duty in the Navy before his legal career.

NVLSP is already providing this free service to other states but it will be the first time it’s available to Minnesotans. It is free for the state of Minnesota as well, according to MDVA.

Quade expects it will encourage more families to pursue appeals.

“These cases, when they’re won, can result in hundreds of thousands of dollars and even more in benefits,” said Quade. “It means everything, it comes down to quality of life and improving the quality of life for Minnesotans and their family members.”