EDISON—Responding to a widely-recognized and increasing need, Legal Services of New Jersey announced the launch of a new Veterans Legal Assistance Project on Veterans Day.
The program’s goal is to provide legal representation to eligible low-income veterans with VA disability compensation and pension claims, and telephone advice in most other veterans matters.
“Although there are many organizations advocating and serving veterans, there are not nearly enough legal services available to veterans, especially those with service-related disabilities, whose ranks have increased sharply during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars,” said Melville D. Miller, Jr., LSNJ president. “Having skilled legal counsel greatly improves veterans’ ability to secure the benefits they are due.”
According to the U.S. Government Accountability Office, it takes an average of 280 days to process a veteran’s initial claim and more than 18 months to resolve an appeal. More than 100,000 claims decided each year are eventually reversed after an initial adverse determination. It is projected that veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will file more than 600,000 new disability claims over the next five years.
“The new project will focus its efforts initially on assisting veterans who have filed for benefits and received some form of adverse determination, which statistics reveal can amount to as many as 70% of all disability compensation claims,” Miller observed. “This is a large and greatly underserved population, and the appeals process requires a degree of expertise that is not generally available to them.”
Initially the project will be staffed by Mary Acevedo, an LSNJ senior attorney. Because of limited funding, full representation will only be provided in disability claims, but telephone advice will be offered for other legal issues commonly faced by veterans.
“LSNJ has developed successful systems and strategies for securing disability benefits for clients,” said Kevin Liebkemann, an LSNJ senior attorney who has led the design of the new project. “When we looked at the increasing number of veterans with disabilities who need legal help, we saw that a project to serve those veterans is something we could – and should – do.”
“Because of Legal Services’ wide-ranging expertise and experience in housing, family law, health care access, consumer issues, education, and workers’ rights, we will be able to provide veterans with comprehensive legal help in these other areas, in addition to assisting with their disability claims,” Miller noted. “We also have social workers on staff to help provide a holistic response to clients’ needs.”
Those seeking assistance from the veterans benefits project should go to the www.LSNJLAW.org Web site, or call LSNJ’s toll-free, statewide legal hotline,1-888-LSNJ-LAW (1-888-576-5529). Those outside New Jersey should call 1-732-572-9100 and ask to be transferred to the hotline.
Services are provided at no charge, but all clients must be financially eligible (below 200% of the federal poverty level) and representation is not guaranteed.
Operating in New Jersey through a network of six regional programs and LSNJ, the statewide coordinating program, Legal Services provides essential legal aid—and access to the judicial system to resolve disputes—to people who cannot afford legal counsel for their civil legal problems. More than 67,000 clients were served last year – and hundreds of thousands more were helped through self-help publications and the LSNJ Web sites.
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