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USD's Veterans Legal Clinic expands services

The Veterans Legal Clinic at the University of San Diego School of Law recently expanded its free legal services for California veterans needing assistance with discharge upgrades and Veterans Administration (VA) disability claims appeals.

"Assistance navigating VA disability claims appeals and discharge upgrades are two of the least offered services for San Diego's veteran community today," said Robert Muth, the clinic's supervising attorney. "USD's Veterans Legal Clinic expanded its services to fill an important and growing need for pro bono legal advice and assistance for these deserving veterans."

Media reports during the past year have highlighted a high volume of backlogged veterans' disability claims.

As recently as September 2013, more than 751,000 veteran disability claims were pending before the VA nationwide. Approximately 457,000 of those claims had been pending for more than 125 days, the VA's benchmark for timeliness.

While the VA has made recent strides in bringing down these numbers, it may have come at a cost, according to Muth.

"As the VA required staff to work overtime to address the backlog, their error rate likely went up due to the directive to churn through the caseload," he said. "Over-worked employees are more likely to make mistakes or prematurely determine outcomes due to time constraints. Appeals will rise, and veterans will need help navigating the complex appeals process. That's where we come in."

Another issue involves less-than-honorable discharge. There are currently more than 100,000 veterans who have received less-than-honorable discharges from the military.

A high number of those discharged under less-than-honorable conditions suffered from undiagnosed -- and untreated -- post-traumatic stress syndrome, traumatic brain injuries, or other combat-related challenges.

Such discharges strip veterans of important benefits, preclude them from finding gainful employment, and significantly hinder their ability to make a successful transition to civilian life.

The Veterans Legal Clinic's expansion of services to represent such veterans allows these veterans to apply for a correct characterization of their military service and receive the benefits, the respect, and the honor they deserve.

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