Puller Veterans Benefits Clinic Joins VA's Community of Practice

  • Making Progress
    Making Progress  During the Aug. 22 press conference, Senator Mark Warner said the collaboration between the VA and the Puller Clinic was a sign of progress in the on-going effort to speed the processing of veterans' disability claims.  Photo by David F. Morrill
  • Making a Point
    Making a Point  Senator Mark Warner, at podium, illustrated the complexity of many claims and the need to move as quickly as possible to an electronic claims process by showing a stack of documents pertaining to one veteran's case. Roanoke Regional Office Director Keith Wilson is at right.  Photo by David F. Morrill
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On Aug. 22, senior Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) administrators joined with Senator Mark Warner of Virginia to announce that William & Mary Law School's Lewis B. Puller, Jr. Veterans Benefits Clinic joined the VA's Fully Developed Claims (FDC) Community of Practice. The announcement took place during a press conference at the VA's Roanoke, Va., Regional Office. The Puller Clinic is the third organization, and the first law school clinic, to receive this designation.

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Warner characterized the collaboration as a "a win-win-win situation."  Not only would law students donate their time, "a win for the American taxpayer," he said, "it's also a win for veterans because often the cases being worked on are the more complicated ones." Lastly, he said, it is a win for the students. These future lawyers, he said, "are the people who are going to take that idea of service and put it into action."

The VA recently established the FDC Community of Practice to help speed the processing of veterans' disability compensation claims.  In a press release, the VA noted that it can typically process an FDC in half the time of a traditional claim. The VA defines an FDC as a claim submitted with all available supporting evidence, such as private treatment records, and certification that there is no additional evidence to submit.

In his remarks at the event, VA General Counsel Will A. Gunn credited the Law School for championing the idea "that law schools, law students and, I believe, even college students, can help veterans receive their benefits at a faster pace." He referenced the playbook developed by the clinic's faculty and noted that it was created to encourage other law schools and institutions to develop clinics of their own.

Gunn, Law School Dean Davison M. Douglas, and VA Assistant Secretary for Congressional and Legislative Affairs Joan M. Mooney credited Warner in their remarks for his leadership.  Mooney spoke about "his strong leadership on this important project" and thanked him for "seeing it through to fruition." Douglas noted that Warner, a long-time friend of the Puller family, spoke at the clinic's dedication. "I don't know of a better champion of the rights of our wounded warriors than Senator Warner," he said.  He credited Warner for playing a crucial role in encouraging the collaboration between the law school and VA.

Since the Puller Clinic accepted its first clients in 2008, more than 90 law students, working under the supervision of managing attorneys, have assisted hundreds of veterans with claims for disability benefits. The clinic works in tandem with faculty and students at Virginia Commonwealth University's Center for Psychological Services and Development, which provides counseling, assessment and referrals to these veterans.

The clinic's work is made possible in part by the generosity of alumni and friends of the law school and the support of the Jessie Ball duPont Fund and the Honeywell Hometown Solutions Foundation.

Inspired by the clinic's success, William & Mary created Helping Military Veterans through Higher Education (HMVHE), a consortium of 19 universities in Virginia committed to serving veterans.

Editor's Note: William & Mary law students, VCU psychology students and professors, and many attorneys have volunteered their time to assist the clinic's veteran clients. In addition, Professor Patricia E. Roberts directs the Law School's Clinical Program, Professors Stacey-Rae Simcox '99 and Mark Matthews '99 serve as the clinic's managing attorneys, and Christopher Delacy '99 of Holland & Knight and Douglas Dziak '99 of Nixon Peabody provide pro bono assistance with government relations.