/ Blog Post
By Paul Schwen, 2016 Fellow sponsored by Northrop Grumman Corporation and Covington & Burling LLP
The Marine Corps motto is “Semper Fidelis”, meaning “Always Faithful”. While serving as a marine during combat tours in Afghanistan and Iraq, I learned to live by that motto. I applied it to my missions, to my relationships with other Marines, and eventually to my undergraduate studies.
While working on my undergraduate degree, the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) published information on the incredibly high rate of suicide among veterans. I knew that I had to do something. During my undergraduate career, I began advocating for student veterans by seeking better resources and healthcare facilities for them on campus. The experience of advocating for my fellow veterans is what led me to law school.
Following my 2L year, I had the opportunity to be a summer law clerk at the National Veterans Legal Services Program (NVLSP). After a successful summer, I knew I wanted to continue working with the organization. The executive director and I collaborated to apply for an Equal Justice Works Fellowship.
The Board of Veterans’ Appeals (BVA) has reported that the average amount of time from the filing of an appeal of disability denial to the BVA decision is 1,407 days. Long systematic delays have caused veterans financial hardship, lack of access to VA health care, and lack of faith in the VA. As part of my Fellowship, I provided legal services to disabled veterans whose appeals of initial disability denials have been systematically delayed for years. I drafted petitions for extraordinary relief, client letters, and demand letters; learned how to stay organized with hundreds of cases; improved my skills in legal research and writing; and learned project management, how to work as part of a team, how to mentor pro bono attorneys, and so much more.
During my Fellowship, I was able to collaborate with my sponsors, Northrop Grumman Corporation and Covington & Burling LLP, to improve the VA appellate process that was in place. With their pro bono assistance, we began filing individual petitions for Writs of Mandamus at the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims (CAVC), asking the court to force the Veterans Administration to send the appeals to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals. In November 2017, we filed a petition for class certification, asking the court to determine that a class action is the best way to manage multiple claims. A class action would allow us to efficiently help veterans while shaping the appeals process. The certification was granted—a first in the CAVC’s 30-year history. In the certification, the CAVC stated its discontent at the VA’s unreasonable delays, stating that the VA has failed to uphold its duty to veterans. Thanks to my Fellowship sponsors, Northrop Grumman and Covington & Burling LLP, we were able to change the law in a landmark decision for veterans.
At the conclusion of my Fellowship project, NVLSP asked me to stay on as a staff attorney. Now, I help veterans apply for discharge upgrades, mentor pro bono attorneys, and conduct legal clinics for veterans. It is extremely rewarding to have played a part in the legal history while serving veterans. I applied for an Equal Justice Works Fellowship because I knew it was the best path for me to start a career serving veterans. I will always be grateful for Equal Just Works, NVLSP, and my Fellowship sponsors, Northrop Grumman and Covington & Burling LLP, for helping me remain “Always Faithful” to my fellow veterans.
To learn more about Paul’s project, visit his Fellow profile.
I applied for an Equal Justice Works Fellowship because I knew it was the best path for me to start a career serving veterans.
Paul Schwen /
Equal Justice Works Fellow