Puller Clinic Wins Victory for Veteran Exposed to Asbestos in Service

Third-year William & Mary Law School student Michael Goldsmith has won an appeal at the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims for a U.S. Air Force veteran exposed to asbestos in service and now suffering from significant health issues as a result. Goldsmith, under the supervision of Adjunct Professor Aniela Szymanski at the Lewis B. Puller, Jr. Veterans Benefits Clinic, convinced the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) that the VA committed significant errors in denying the Air Force veteran’s disability claim.

Goldsmith explained that "much of the VA's decision in this case was based on the medical opinions of the VA’s own medical examiner, which were adverse to the veteran’s claim. In order to overcome those opinions, Professor Szymanski and I focused on the various presumptions afforded to veterans by law. This successful appeal is a testament to the importance of service-related presumptions in veterans’ benefits litigation."

“Michael Goldsmith’s excellent representation of this veteran at the appellate court resulted in the VA agreeing that these errors were committed before the case even got to a judge for a decision," Szymanski noted.  "This saved the VA and the Court the time and expense of a lengthy court proceeding, and gets the claim back to the VA for a new decision quickly. This type of advocacy benefits clients the most because they already must wait an exceptionally long time to obtain their benefits in cases such as these – eliminating any unnecessary delay can make all the difference in the world to these veterans.”

The veteran in the case enlisted in the Air Force in 1973 and his duties included removing asbestos from pipes. He began experiencing symptoms while still in service that continued to deteriorate his health to the point where he could no longer hold a job. He filed a disability claim with the VA in 1991, seeking benefits for conditions that doctors believed were the result of his exposure to asbestos while serving in the Air Force. While the VA acknowledged that he was exposed to asbestos while in service, they have not recognized that his current medical conditions are a result of that exposure. Now that the VA has acknowledged that errors were committed in deciding the claim, the veteran’s case will be looked at again by the VA and another decision will be made.

About the Puller Clinic

The Puller Clinic provides free legal representation to military veterans seeking disability benefits from the Department of Veteran Affairs. Since its establishment in 2008, the 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 its 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. Learn more by visiting Starbucks Newsroom.

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.