Ropes & Gray Honors Military Veterans through Pro Bono Service
There are more than 18.5 million military veterans in the United States, all of whom have a unique set of legal needs that require special consideration for issues related to benefits, employment, health care, housing, insurance, and education.
To help meet these needs and give back to those who have served their country, Ropes & Gray works with a number of pro bono partners, both regionally and nationally. In the past few years, our attorneys have handled cases through referrals from Veterans Legal Services (VLS), Veterans Consortium Pro Bono Program, New York City Bar Justice Center’s Veterans Assistance Project (VAP), National Veterans Legal Services Program and Veterans Legal Clinic of the Legal Services Center of Harvard Law School.
As the United States honors its military veterans on Veterans Day, here are some notable recent examples of work done by our attorneys on behalf of those who have served in the military:
- Representing veterans in discharge upgrade cases in partnership with Veterans Legal Clinic of the Legal Services Center of Harvard Law School. Many of the men and women who served in the U.S. Armed Forces are cut off from veterans’ services and benefits because they were given a less-than-honorable discharge. Our attorneys work with the Veterans Legal Clinic to rectify this discharge status and facilitate access to much-needed treatment and support from federal and state veterans agencies. Government enforcement associate Mike Homer manages the firm’s partnership with Veterans Legal Clinic.
- Representing Paul Ollis, a veteran injured during surgery undertaken at the recommendation of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) in a claim for benefits. Litigation associate Sam Brenner worked to secure a notable victory at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit for Mr. Ollis, which paves the way for similarly situated veterans to receive benefits without losing disability coverage when they follow VA referrals to non-VA doctors and facilities.
- Representing a Vietnam veteran in obtaining disability compensation benefits from the VA in connection with alleged mental health injuries suffered during his time in the service. Corporate associate Steve Zaorski is handling this representation.
- Representing a Vietnam veteran seeking service-connected disability for his exposure to Agent Orange in Vietnam. Litigation associate Jonathan Foster successfully argued that the VA should be required to assist his client in obtaining deck logs for the ships on which he served to determine if the ships were close enough to land to expose him to Agent Orange. Mr. Foster then argued that his client had served in the brown water of Vietnam, where Agent Orange exposure is presumed, as opposed to the blue water of Vietnam, where exposure is not presumed. The case was sent back to the Board of Veterans Appeals to reopen on remand.
- Representing a Vietnam veteran appealing a denial of service-connected disability following an injury while attempting to board the USS Barry in Southeast Asia. Litigation associate and Army Reservist Dave Soutter, along with several prior associates, have represented this client for the past seven years. Mr. Soutter successfully expedited his client’s remand to the Boston Regional Office and is now arguing before the Board of Veterans Appeals that the Regional Office applied the incorrect standard in denying his client’s disability claim.
- Securing a favorable settlement for an Iraq and Afghanistan veteran who was sold an SUV with an odometer that had been rolled back. After nearly two years of inaction by the dealership, claiming the mileage discrepancy was merely an error, business & securities litigation partner John Bueker and Dave Soutter filed an amended complaint in Norfolk County Superior Court and then negotiated a settlement with the dealership and its parent company to buy back the SUV and compensate the client for all expenses and lost wages.
- Advising on the administration of the estate of the matriarch of a Gold Star family. Private client group partner Cameron Casey and senior attorney Kevin Willis have been helping the eldest son, in his role as personal representative, settle his mother’s affairs.
- Securing U.S. citizenship for Sokphal Nong, a veteran of the Iraq War who had tried unsuccessfully for more than 12 years to gain U.S. citizenship. Ropes & Gray received the Outstanding Pro Bono Award from VLS in 2016 for this work, which was led by government enforcement partner Joshua Levy and Mike Homer.
- Securing U.S. citizenship for Jose Buenopena, a veteran with a service-connected disability who served honorably in the U.S. Marine Corps, through a successful lawsuit filed on his behalf in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts. In his case closure statement, Mr. Buenopena reflected on the support he received from VLS and his attorneys: “It has changed my entire life drastically. At one point I thought I was on the verge of getting deported, and now I’m getting my citizenship.” Joshua Levy and Mike Homer led the Ropes & Gray team assisting Mr. Buenopena.
In addition to providing pro bono legal service, Ropes & Gray supports the efforts of Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing to bring its high-quality, full-spectrum fly fishing program to an ever-expanding number of disabled active military service personnel across the Veterans Affairs health care system, in military hospitals and the U.S. Army Warrior Transition Command. The program has become recognized as an innovative leader and model in the field of therapeutic outdoor recreation for the disabled through its successful application of the sport of fly fishing as a rehabilitation tool. Ropes & Gray proudly served as the title sponsor of the foundation’s “Healing on the Fly: Boston” on Oct. 24, a special evening designed to support the mission of Project Healing Waters and all that it has accomplished in supporting injured and disabled veterans.
Special thanks to all Ropes & Gray attorneys dedicated to serving the legal needs of veterans, as well as to our pro bono partners, and our director of pro bono legal services, Roz Nasdor, for working to close the enormous gap in the provision of legal services to our nation’s veterans.