William & Mary Law School’s Lewis B. Puller, Jr. Veterans Benefits Clinic has joined the Department of Veterans Affairs Fully Developed Claims (FDC) Community of Practice, the VA announced in a press release today. The Puller Clinic is the first law school clinic in the nation to be invited to join the FDC Community of Practice.
Since the 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 (VCU) Center for Psychological Services and Development, who provide counseling, assessment, and referrals to these veterans.
“The Puller Clinic’s holistic approach to claims management – combining legal and psychological assistance – provides a national model for how law schools across the country can help solve the nation's backlog of veterans' benefits claims,” said William & Mary President Taylor Reveley. “Today’s announcement by the Department of Veterans Affairs reflects the tireless leadership of Senator Mark Warner, the great work being done at William & Mary Law School, and the determination of the VA to work collaboratively to address the needs of our veterans.”
The FDC Community of Practice was established in May to help speed the processing of veterans’ disability compensation claims. The Puller Clinic joins Veterans Service Organizations, The American Legion and Disabled American Veterans, which are charter members of the community.
“We’re delighted to have the Puller Clinic join the effort to increase the number of Veterans filing fully developed claims,” said Under Secretary for Benefits Allison A. Hickey in a press release. “It’s indicative of the growing national commitment to the timely delivery of Veterans benefits.”
In its 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.
As a result of this new partnership, William & Mary clinical law faculty will participate in a workshop on FDCs at the VA’s regional office in Roanoke on August 21, and will start to work on FDCs in complex areas such as post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, and military sexual trauma.
“This is a win-win-win: veterans receive benefits to which they are entitled, the VA receives more claims that are accurate and complete, and William & Mary law students develop new skills as well as an appreciation for pro bono service,” said U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va). “I could not be more pleased with this significant announcement from the VA.”
Warner sent a letter to his Senate colleagues earlier this year suggesting that the Puller Clinic may be one way to help solve the nation’s backlog of disability claims.
Davison M. Douglas, dean of William & Mary Law School, said that the clinic’s work has had many benefits. “Our students’ assistance has had a profound effect on the veterans they have served. In addition, the professional growth we have seen in our clinic students and their commitment to service have been tremendously inspiring.”
In April, the Virginia State Bar recognized the Puller Clinic’s volunteer attorneys and law students with the Lewis F. Powell Jr. Pro Bono Award.
“The Puller Clinic’s success in helping veterans has been a collaborative effort from the beginning,” said Clinical Associate Professor of Law Patricia Roberts, who directs the Law School’s Clinical Programs. “Working across disciplines and institutions, the Puller Clinic uses the time and talent of Virginia’s higher education professionals and students to give back to the veterans who have given so much to our nation. We are truly grateful that Senator Warner recognizes the Puller Clinic as a national model and for the VA’s invitation to join the FDC Community of Practice.”
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.
Veterans and others interested in supporting this work can learn more about the Puller Clinic online.