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Puller Clinic Proposals for Collaboration with the VA
Deliverables Anticipated through Puller Collaboration with the VA (described in detail, infra):
Greater collaboration between VA Regional Offices, the Office of General Counsel, and
law school clinics serving veterans
Creation of Veterans Benefits Center of Excellence where the Puller Clinic will design
and promote a national model curriculum for law school clinics and law firms serving
veterans on a pro bono basis, to include online training modules and webinars
Annual 1.5 day national recruitment and training conference for law schools and law
firms interested in pro bono support for veterans
Annual 4 day intensive Certification Program for pro bono attorneys and law school
Dissemination of Fully Developed Claims information, benefit process and regulation
changes, best practices, and VA training materials to pro bono attorneys and law school
Puller Clinic to train, evaluate and make “best practice” certification recommendations
to the VA regarding law school clinics serving veterans
Data collection by the Puller Clinic to track efficacy of law school clinics and determine
Coordination of research and policy work by higher education institutions in support of
Increased capacity at the Puller Clinic, and expanded education, outreach, advice and
counsel to veterans
I. Improve Collaboration Between the VA and Law School Clinics
Include law school clinics in the VA’s email distribution of materials that will aid
in effective representation of veterans, including, among other things, fast
letters, regulation changes, regional office training letters, and training
o Law school clinics serving veterans, as pro bono service providers, should
have the same access to training and other supportive information from
the VA that VSOs currently receive.
Appoint a liaison in every regional office whose responsibilities include working
directly with law school clinics serving veterans in their region; appoint a similar
liaison in the Office of General Counsel so that law clinics have a point person to
contact regarding policy issues.
o The VA appointed such liaisons for the Puller Clinic and they have been
incredibly useful in increasing the efficiency of the claims process on
behalf of veteran clients. All law school clinics would benefit from a direct
contact with the VA in their local regional office and in the Office of
Develop plans for a pilot program where initially filed claims or previously filed
regional office cases being appealed or requesting review that are certified
complete by law school clinics can be put on a “fast track” for priority review,
similar to the Fully Developed Claims initiative.
Allow private practitioners and graduate psychology clinics working with law
school clinics to do a DBQ that will supplant a C&P exam for initial diagnosis of
PTSD and TBI.
o Allowing this will reduce the pressure on the VA Health System in
providing these exams, and reduce the time required for veterans
awaiting an appointment with a C&P practitioner. Private practitioners
and graduate psychology clinics working with the Puller Clinic have
proven to be more expansive and detailed in their evaluations and
reports for clients suffering from PTSD and TBI, and veterans benefit from
reduced wait time and reduced or no cost for the evaluations.
Improve VA transparency regarding claims and appeals generally; also, provide
more timely and comprehensive access to claims monitoring for individual
veterans and the law school clinics representing them.
Include law school clinics in a pilot externship program whereby trained law
students would assist VA initial claim reviewers at the request of VA regional
offices suffering from a backlog. Such law students would, working in
conjunction with claims reviewers, determine additional information needed for
proof of claim and assist in acquiring that information from the veterans and
their health care providers, at no cost to the VA.
Provide the Puller Clinic and other law school clinics with access to the portals
currently utilized by VSOs, including but not limited to the SEP/VBMS/BIRLS
o Currently the Puller Clinic and other law school clinics are waiting up to
six months for return of a veteran’s C-file. Additional document requests
also experience significant delays. Providing access for law school clinics
to the same portals that VSOs already have access to will allow for more
efficiencies and timeliness in the processing of claims by law school
clinics, and eliminate this discriminatory prohibition on attorney access to
II. Establishment of a Veterans Benefits Center for Excellence
The VA should establish a Veterans Benefits Center for Excellence whereby the
Puller Clinic and the VA will work together to improve the benefits process
nationally, addressing systemic problems that led to the current backlogs and
piloting programs to increase efficiency and accuracy in the veterans benefits
process moving forward. The Center for Excellence will include as part of its
responsibilities the following initiatives.
o The Puller Clinic and the VA will collaborate in an effort to advance an
Integrated Training Program and establish a Certification Program that
will train law schools interested in teaching their students Fully
Developed Claims and other claims development; this intensive four-day
Certification Program will be held annually at William & Mary Law School,
and will include updates and advanced training for law school clinics
already in operation.
The Puller Clinic proposed this annual 4-day intensive course to
continue to encourage and train those law clinics, VSOs, law
students, and lawyers interested in learning how to provide pro
bono assistance to veterans in the benefits claims process. This 4-
day summer institute will include advanced sessions regarding
claims development and review, relying heavily on the training
materials provided by the VA and the VA's expertise as
participants, as well as the Puller Clinic's experience. General
Counsel Gunn and his colleagues supported this idea during our
December 2013 meeting, and expressed a willingness to
participate in such a program.
o The Puller Clinic will lead the effort to train other law schools, attorneys
and advocates, as well as screen and certify those organizations, making
recommendations to the VA on those deserving a “best practices”
In December 2013, General Counsel Gunn and Mr. Flohr noted
that the VA has a wealth of training materials, in print and
presentation form, that are already provided to new employees
who evaluate claims or who join the General Counsel's Office, and
noted that the VA provides quality control information and
technical assistance in claims development to its employees. The
VA agreed to share appropriate materials and assistance with the
Puller Clinic for use as a foundation from which the Puller Clinic
would create a national model curriculum for other law schools
and pro bono attorneys nationwide. To date, access to these
materials has not been provided, though the Puller Clinic did
receive several fast letters and monthly updates after a February
o The Puller Clinic will encourage research and policy work in the area of
veterans’ benefits, sharing results with the VA to aid in further
improvements to the benefits process; and, if requested by the VA, will
match higher education institutions willing to undertake particular VA
research projects with the VA.
An extremely successful national conference for law clinics and law firms
interested in providing pro bono assistance to our nation’s veterans was hosted
by the Puller Clinic in April 2014, and coordinated with the VA so that they could
hold a complementary pre-conference program. The national conference hosted
by the Puller Clinic was attended by more than 125 people, with more than 40
law schools and universities represented.
o The Puller Clinic continues to follow up with attendees and those
interested in starting pro bono programs. A listserv for veteran clinics and
the Puller Veterans Clinic Consortium were created to encourage support
for new and existing law clinics serving veterans, and are regularly
utilized to exchange ideas, inquiries, and information.
o The Puller Clinic is engaged in a survey of all ABA-approved law schools to
create a comprehensive up-to-date list of existing law school clinics,
including contact information and services provided. Those law schools
interested in starting a clinic in support of veterans are provided the
Puller Clinic Playbook, with phone and email follow-up assistance.
o The Puller Clinic would like to work with the VA to plan follow up
conferences held annually to continue recruitment of additional pro bono
attorneys and law school clinics.
The VA should support a request for funding to establish a Veterans Benefits
Center for Excellence that would develop a training curriculum, certification
program, and national model for dissemination to law schools and other higher
education institutions across the country.
o Remove VA’s impediments to awarding grants to pro bono law school
o Provide appropriation from the VA for law clinics serving veterans,
potentially from discretion funds from the Secretary.
o $13,270,000 (over five years) to the Puller Clinic at William & Mary Law
Establishment of a Veterans Benefits Center for Excellence
Development of national curricula for replication of the Puller
Conference costs for annual training of attorneys and clinics
Costs for annual Certification Program and monitoring for best
Expansion of existing veteran support services and dissemination
of national model for increased veteran assistance, and law
school, student and advocate training across the country
Staffing at a Veterans Benefits Center for Excellence, to be housed
at the Puller Clinic, which would include eight full-time attorneys,
two psychologists, four paralegals, three outreach coordinators
(for curricular development and collaboration with VA and other
law schools), and two administrative assistants; expanded staffing
to increase capacity for veteran representation, student and
attorney training, and development and dissemination of national
III. Best Practice, Lessons Learned and Next steps
The Puller Clinic will engage in regularly scheduled follow-up meetings with the
VA to determine best practices and next steps in establishment of the Center for
Excellence and the integrated training program.
The Puller Clinic will serve as data collector for “best practice” veteran clinics,
and will share that data and suggestions and concerns solicited from the law
school clinics with the VA.
o The Puller Clinic can serve as a conduit from the VA to higher education
institutions, as well as a pipeline with helpful information from those
higher education institutions back to the VA.
The Puller Clinic will aid in dissemination of the most up to date VA information
to pro bono attorneys and law school clinics across the country, and
accompanying training when appropriate.
America’s First Law School
Fulfilling Our Nation’s Obligation
For more information contact Professor Patty Roberts,
Director of Clinical Programs and the Lewis B. Puller, Jr. Veterans Benefits Clinic
William & Mary Law School
firstname.lastname@example.org ~ 757.221.3821 ~ law.wm.edu/veterans