The Lewis B. Puller, Jr. Veterans Benefits Clinic has won an appeal at the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims for a U.S. Navy veteran exposed to Agent Orange while serving in Vietnam. This win was made possible through the efforts of a recent William & Mary Law School graduate, Jennifer Kahl, J.D. '15. Kahl began working on the appeal while a third-year law student at the Puller Clinic, under the supervision of Adjunct Professor Aniela Szymanski. After graduating in May 2015, Kahl was determined to see the case through to its conclusion. She remained on the case as a pro bono attorney while working at The Heritage Law Group in Hampton Roads, Va., where she currently practices elder law.
Professor Szymanski noted, "Jennifer was able to win this case through her outstanding attention to detail and excellent legal research. She presented arguments to the Court of Appeals that made it clear there was no other choice than to acknowledge that the veteran had been exposed to Agent Orange. Her efforts literally changed the entire course of the veteran's claim. He had little chance of success prior to this win at the Court of Appeals."
"To many veterans, the Puller Clinic is one of the few places where they can turn for help," Kahl said. "The veteran in this case had been 'fired' by his previous attorney because she felt that his case was hopeless. Of course, his case was not hopeless! At the Clinic, we do important work that really makes a difference in people's lives. It has been exciting for me to be involved with such a great case so early in my legal career."
The veteran served in the Navy during the Vietnam conflict and part of his duties including laying mines in Vietnamese harbors. Years later, he developed cancer that his treating physicians believed was caused by Agent Orange exposure. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) initially acknowledged that the veteran had been exposed to Agent Orange, but later changed its determination and began denying that he had been exposed. Based on legal arguments made by Kahl to the Court of Appeals, the Court determined that the VA could not recant on its earlier admission and that the veteran should be presumed to have been exposed to the herbicide. The veteran's claim is now being remanded to the Board of Veterans' Appeals for reconsideration of its denial of the veteran's cancer claim.
The Puller Clinic provides free legal representation to military veterans seeking disability benefits from the VA. Since its establishment in 2008, the Puller Clinic has represented more than 150 veteran clients in hundreds of disability claims.
Additionally, the Puller Clinic is the founder of Military Mondays, a partnership with Starbucks and their Armed Services Network. During pre-scheduled bimonthly meetings at Starbucks, William & Mary Law School professors and students provide free advice and counsel to local service members and veterans seeking assistance with disability compensation claims, discharge upgrades related to service-connected disabilities, and their separation from service.
To contact the clinic or to set up an appointment for Military Mondays, please call (757) 221-7443 or email [[w|veterans]].
About William & Mary Law School
Thomas Jefferson founded William & Mary Law School in 1779 to train leaders for the new nation. Now in its third century, America's oldest law school continues its historic mission of educating citizen lawyers who are prepared both to lead and to serve.