Court decision in appeal argued by HLS clinical students will benefit thousands of disabled vets

103013_Veterans_240.jpg

Credit: Kris Snibbe/Harvard Staff Photographer Dean Martha Minow (center left) and students who are part of Harvard Law School’s Veterans Legal Clinic spoke with judges of the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims.

In a decision that impacts thousands of veterans, the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims has ruled that Lieutenant Colonel Wilson J. Ausmer, Jr., a highly decorated veteran, should be able to file an appeal of his disability claim even though he had missed the 120-day deadline to do so.

The case was argued in October 2013 at Harvard Law School before the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims as part of the Veterans Clinic of the WilmerHale Legal Services Center of Harvard Law School. A three-judge panel traveled from Washington, D.C., to Ames Courtroom to hear oral arguments in the case as part of its annual educational and outreach campaign.

Chris Melendez, (black sweater) HLS student and Brad Hinshelwood, (brown sweater) HLS student meet together inside the Wasserstein Hall's  Caspersen Student Center before arguing the case for veterans at the US court of appeals later that week.

Credit: Kris Snibbe/Harvard Staff Photographer Chris Melendez, (black sweater) HLS student and Brad Hinshelwood, (brown sweater) HLS student meet together inside the Wasserstein Hall’s Caspersen Student Center before arguing the case for veterans at the US court of appeals later that week.

HLS students Christopher Melendez ‘15, Bradley Hinshelwood ‘14 and Juan Arguello ‘15 represented Ausmer, who was recalled to active duty in 2011 after he had filed a claim for disability compensation. The Veterans Board of Appeals decision was delivered to Ausmer’s home while he was stationed in Afghanistan. At issue in the case is whether he missed the deadline by filing the appeal after he returned home.

The precedent-setting decision paid particular note to the difficulties faced by those who serve multiple deployments. Ausmer was serving in Afghanistan on his second combat deployment in the Middle East when his disability claim was denied. The Court ruled the deadline should have been extended.

The Court’s ruling effectively allows recently discharged veterans whose ability to file an appeal is “materially affected” by their service a full 210 days from the date of discharge to appeal adverse BVA decisions. The decision is being hailed as a huge win for veterans’ rights, as the court’s holding could extend to appeals filed with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) as well. In fiscal year 2013, over  100,000 appeals were filed with the VA.