Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Attorneys for Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice will give free legal advice today at the firm’s offices in Northwest to military veterans filing disability claims.

It is the second “When Duty Calls” legal clinic sponsored by the business-oriented law firm, joined earlier this year by former Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican.

About 50 lawyers from firms across the region will participate, answering questions and drafting preliminary legal claims for veterans who may not have the resources or knowledge to file for themselves. About 100 veterans from the region are expected to participate in the program.

“There are a lot of veterans out there today that don’t know about their right to file for disability claims,” said Tim McClain, Womble Carlyle attorney and former general counsel at the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Veterans can submit claims for health care benefits and monetary compensation if they have suffered physical or mental disabilities during military service.

However, the federal government can deny benefits for improperly filed claims or if veterans have insufficient evidence to prove their combat experience.

The program was designed to assist veterans in the early stages of the filing process to ensure that they collect the appropriate documents and formulate an effective legal argument.

“Our goal is to short-circuit some of the delays [in the VA] by gathering the information,” said attorney Craig Cannon, adding that he can send a paralegal to a doctor’s office to obtain necessary records.

Michael Taub, a lawyer with the Philadelphia Homeless Advocacy Project who has handled hundreds of veterans claims, said former soldiers are now living in homeless shelters and suffer from such medical conditions as post-traumatic stress disorder.

About 2,500 veterans in the District are homeless, according to the VA.

Though attorneys are not charging for their legal advice, they said the work is rewarding.

“The high performers on the commercial side are also the high performers on the pro bono side,” said Tripp Greason of Womble Carlyle.

He also said lawyers who focus on contract law rarely get the opportunity “to actually change someone’s life.”

The lawyers went through a five-hour training session yesterday to review the system of filing claims, the benefits to which veterans are entitled and to learn how to deal with clients who may have substance-abuse problems.

Mr. Ehrlich, who opened a Womble Carlyle office in Baltimore, plans to replicate the clinic in the fall, said spokesman Henry Fawell. Womble Carlyle conducted its first free legal clinic in Raleigh, N.C., in May.

Veterans in need of legal assistance should call 202/467-6900.

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