The Wisconsin Access to Justice Commission has named Travis James West of West & Dunn to the 2017 Pro Bono Honor Society. The award, announced annually in conjunction with National Law Day, was created by the Commission with support from the Wisconsin State Bar’s pro bono program to honor lawyers who have performed at least 50 hours of qualifying pro bono legal services during the past calendar year. Mr. West, who also received the honor in 2013 and 2014, routinely represents veterans without charge before the US Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims.
For the first time, a federal agency recognized that exposure to burn pits used at a US military forward operating base may cause lung disease. This January an administrative law judge (“ALJ”) in the Department of Labor (“DOL”) found that burn pit exposure caused lung disease in a government contractor working in Iraq. Ever since, social media platforms have been abuzz with hopeful chatter that the DOL decision will spark the Department of Veterans Affairs (“VA”) to follow suit and acknowledge the connection between burn pits and negative health conditions. While DOL’s decision evidences a hopeful crack, the dyke has not yet fully burst. Although the ALJ found that a government contractor presented enough evidence to show that exposure to the burn pits caused her lung disease, the DOL decision does not control decisions made by the VA. Veterans with claims pending before VA for that relate to burn pit exposure must continue to gather medical evidence to bring a successful benefits claim — a daunting task when it comes to proving causation.
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Following the example set by the Social Security Administration, the US Department of Veterans Affairs has implemented a 2% cost of living adjustment ("COLA") for 2018 for service connected disability benefits. Under this change, monthly payments for a veteran without dependents rated at 100% will be $2,973.86. Changes for all rating levels can be viewed at this link. Although the 2018 COLA was published in the Federal Register on February 18, the rate changes are effective December 1, 2017.