New York Veterans Law Working Group submits testimony at Albany hearing

September 24, 2019

As part of the Veterans Initiative of the VOLS Elderly Project, Volunteers of Legal Service recently contributed to written testimony that highlighted veterans issues for a statewide hearing on civil legal services in New York State, held on September 23, 2019, at the Court of Appeals in Albany.


The Hon. Janet DiFiore, Chief Judge of the State of New York, presided over the hearing and was joined by the four Presiding Justices of the Appellate Division, as well as New York State’s Chief Administrative Judge and the President of the New York State Bar Association. Oral statements and written submissions given to the panel are meant to inform future efforts by the New York State Permanent Commission on Access to Justice and their mission to enhance access to justice and ensure the fair administration of justice for all New Yorkers.


The New York City Veterans Law Working Group -- comprised of legal services practitioners in New York City that make serving veterans, military service members, and their families a focus of their work -- submitted written testimony to the Commission in support of establishing a “Veterans Disability Advocacy Program” to assist New York’s veterans appealing denials of disability claims filed with the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).


The testimony highlighted the justice gap for veterans and, in particular, it aimed to make the staff of the New York State Unified Court System, Office of Court Administration, and the members of the New York State Permanent Commission on Access to Justice aware of the inadequate financial support for legal services in connection with VA benefits claims.


It is clear that receiving representation in civil legal matters can be life changing for veterans clients. This is especially true for indigent and otherwise vulnerable veterans, including those suffering from service-related disabilities. The legal services providers who represent veterans in VA claims have waitlists that extend for months and, at present staffing levels, are in no way capable of handling the thousands of veterans in need of representation in these matters. 


By establishing a program to provide free legal services attorneys in VA benefits Claims, New York can prevent the vicious cycle that unrepresented low-income, disabled veteran find themselves in, where they have been unsuccessful in filing claims on their own but cannot find a lawyer to take their case.


Volunteers of Legal Service’s Legal Director, Peter Kempner, co-chairs the New York Veterans Law Working Group which was convened through Fordham Law School’s Feerick Center for Social Justice. Working Group members also include: City Bar Justice Center, Legal Services NYC, New York Legal Assistance Group - NYLAG, and Veteran Advocacy Project.