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Some law students are getting the opportunity to represent men and women who have served in the military.

A lieutenant colonel serving in the U.S. Army Reserves was in Afghanistan on his third tour of duty, suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and enduring a bad foot injury in 2011 when a letter arrived at his home, as described in Harvard Magazine’s “Fighting for Veterans, Learning the Law.” It was an important, time-sensitive letter.

The letter contained information on how he could file an appeal for disability compensation and stated that he had to respond within 120 days of receipt. But Ausmer wouldn’t return home for another five months.

By the time he read the letter, he’d lost his one chance to appeal his benefits case. The Veterans Benefits Administration gave him no help, but a trio of Harvard Law School students did. They took his case, arguing that the clock on an appeals claim should start only after a veteran has returned home—rather than when a letter arrives in his or her mailbox back home.

The students became involved in Ausmer’s case in 2013, while at the Harvard Veterans Law and Disability Benefits Clinic. Each year, dozens of students have assisted veterans with legal cases, winning verdicts of local and national importance.

Ausmer’s student defenders argued their case in front of the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims. The court’s ruling in the veterans’ favor marked a landmark victory. It allowed recently discharged veterans like Ausmer—whose ability to file an appeal is “materially affected” by their service—to be permitted extra time from their discharge date to appeal.

This decision could help thousands of former soldiers.

The Harvard law students can choose to represent veterans in administrative and federal court appeals by challenging denials of federal and state veterans’ benefits—like Ausmer’s case; represent clients and their families in estate and financial planning matters; or represent clients in administrative and court appeals on issues of denial of Social Security disability benefits.

The Harvard Veterans Law and Disability Benefits Clinic was created to provide law students with a unique opportunity to help veterans while learning what it means to practice law as a service to others. Students in the clinic also help veterans with issues concerning administrative, disability, mental health, probate, and constitutional law.

Reference: Harvard Magazine (February 9, 2016) “Fighting for Veterans, Learning the Law”

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