Benefits

Veterans Consortium Pro Bono Program and Discharge Upgrade Program

This article provides an introduction to the free legal services provided to veterans, their families, caregivers, and survivors by the Veterans Consortium through its Pro Bono Program and its Discharge Upgrade Program.

The Pro Bono Program provides free legal representation at the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims to qualified veterans whose VA claims have been denied by the Board of Veterans’ Appeals.

The Discharge Upgrade Program provides free legal representation to qualified veterans in discharge upgrade appeals before their service’s Discharge Review Board.

What is the Veterans Consortium?

The Veterans Consortium is a group of four national organizations:

 

1. The Pro Bono Program

 

What is the Veterans Consortium Pro Bono Program?

The Veterans Consortium Pro Bono Program is a national nonprofit organization funded by the U.S. Congress that provides free legal services to veterans, their families, caregivers, and survivors. 

What is the purpose of the Pro Bono Program?

The purpose of the Veterans Consortium Pro Bono Program is to help veterans, their families, caregivers, and survivors level the playing field by providing them with representation in court by attorneys who are familiar with and comfortable navigating the practices and procedures of the legal system.

What does the Bono Program do?

The Program connects veterans in need with specially-trained volunteer attorneys who will advise and represent them at no charge when they have been unjustly denied benefits or compensation earned from military service.

The Program represents veterans at the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims (as well as the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit and the U.S. Supreme Court, when necessary).  Since the Program was established in 1992, it has won approximately 4,000 cases on behalf of veterans, their families, caregivers, and survivors.

What is the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims?

The U.S Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims (CAVC) is the court that has exclusive national jurisdiction to provide independent judicial oversight and review of decisions of the Board of Veterans’ Appeals (BVA).

While the BVA is part of the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs (VA), the CAVC is an independent federal court.  Prior to 1988, the VA was the only federal administrative agency that operated without independent judicial oversight of its decisions.  However, with the establishment of the CAVC in 1988, the BVA no longer provides the final decision in a veteran’s claim for benefits or compensation earned from military service, because BVA denials may be appealed to the CAVC.

Who qualifies for the Pro Bono Program?

If you are a veteran or a relative, caregiver, or survivor of a veteran whose VA claim has been denied by the BVA and you want to appeal the decision, then you may qualify to receive an attorney to represent you for free at the CAVC.

In order to receive the free legal services of an attorney in an appeal to the CAVC, you must:

  • be a low-income person
  • have a case that contains at least one meritorious/viable issue that can be argued in your favor

IMPORTANT:   If you want to appeal a BVA denial, you must do so within 120 days of the mailing date of the BVA’s decision.

Extensions of this deadline are only granted due to rare circumstances such as  extended hospitalization, so it is strongly recommended that anyone who wants to appeal a BVA denial of their VA claim should do so as promptly as possible.

Why is it helpful to be represented by an attorney?

Although you do not need to be represented by an attorney to appeal a BVA denial of your VA claim, having an attorney assist you is always helpful because an attorney will not only already know all the rules and procedures that govern appeals to the CAVC but also will be able to:

  • communicate with CAVC staff on your behalf
  • communicate and negotiate with VA attorneys and staff on your behalf
  • prepare and file all your paperwork
  • ask for and conduct oral argument (if appropriate)

How may I apply for the Pro Bono Program?

You may apply for the services of the Pro Bono Program in one of two ways:

  • using the online application
  • by downloading, printing, completing, then submitting a set of application forms by fax, email, or mail

What if the Pro Bono Program is unable to assist me?

If the Pro Bono Program is unable to assist you because it is unable to determine that your case contains at least one meritorious/viable issue that can be argued in your favor, you will still be invited to contact the Program’s Helpline at (855) 446-9678 if you have questions about the CAVC’s processes and procedures and/or need assistance with your paperwork.

To learn more about and/or apply for the Veterans Consortium Pro Bono Program, please click here:  https://www.vetsprobono.org/cavcrep or call (202) 628-8164 or (888) 838-7727 (toll-free).

 

2. The Discharge Upgrade Program

 

What is the Veterans Consortium Discharge Upgrade Program?

The Veterans Consortium Discharge Upgrade Program provides legal support and representation to veterans in discharge upgrade appeals before their service’s Discharge Review Board in cases involving mental health issues related to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), and Military Sexual Trauma (MST).

Who qualifies for the Discharge Upgrade Program?

In order to receive the free legal services of an attorney in a discharge upgrade appeal, you must:

  • have been discharged under conditions Other than Honorable (OTH) or Undesirable
  • be diagnosed with or exhibit symptoms of PTSD, TBI, MST, or another mental health condition
  • have a case that contains at least one meritorious/viable issue that can be argued in your favor

How may I apply for the Discharge Upgrade Program?

To apply for the services of the Discharge Upgrade Program, you are requested to download the intake form, print it out, complete it, then submit it by fax, email, or mail.  The intake form asks for information concerning the applicant’s contact information, military service, and mental health status.

To learn more about and/or apply for the Veterans Consortium Discharge Upgrade Program, please click here:  https://www.vetsprobono.org/dischargeupgrade or call (202) 733-3324.

Sources and further reading

U.S. Court of Appeals for Veteran Claims:  http://www.uscourts.cavc.gov

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs – Board of Veterans’ Appeals:  https://www.bva.va.gov

Veterans Consortium:  https://www.vetsprobono.org

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