July 2020 VIPs: Demarais LLP
Each month, The Veterans Consortium recognizes a “VIP” – Volunteer Inspiring Pro Bono. TVC values all our volunteers and wishes to recognize those who inspire others.
Desmarais LLP attorneys have been valuable mission partners and members of our TVC National Volunteer Corps since 2010, having received favorable outcomes in 100% of their cases before the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims (CAVC). Recently, several attorneys made a commitment to two of their veteran clients to remain with them on remand at the Board of Veterans Appeals (BVA). For the veteran, having an attorney who is trained to identify arguments and evidence at this stage strongly increases the chances for success - which translates into receiving the benefits and compensation they've earned and deserve. We are very grateful that the Desmarais attorneys have chosen to “go the extra mile” for their clients, and it is for this reason that we are pleased to recognize the firm of Desmarais LLP and their attorneys as our July TVC Volunteers Inspiring Pro Bono (VIPs).
Desmarais encourages attorneys to contribute their time to pro bono causes. They have a firm wide pro bono challenge which recognizes attorneys who complete 50 or more hours of pro bono work during the calendar year. In 2019, Desmarais attorneys contributed over 1,400 hours to pro bono matters. We are grateful to them for their commitment to our program and the veterans we serve.
As a 3L at Harvard Law School, Tom Derbish became interested in advocating for veterans when he began volunteering his time at the Veterans Law and Disability Benefits Clinic where he assisted on CAVC cases. The grandson of a Korean War veteran who received VA benefits, Tom found the work interesting and rewarding and naturally gravitated to the CAVC work Desmarais attorneys were doing with TVC.
Tom is currently working on a case for a client he won a remand for at the CAVC. His client, a U.S. Army veteran, experienced a schizophrenic episode, was deemed permanently disabled, and was retired from service. The veteran made repeated attempts to apply for VA benefits immediately after leaving service, but he was not awarded benefits until 2009. He sought an earlier effective date, but the Board of Veterans’ Appeals determined there was no evidence that he sought to apply earlier than 2009. Tom and his team at Desmarais, Justin Wilcox, and Timothy Li, (no longer with the firm) highlighted evidence that indicated the veteran had filed a claim when he separated from the Army and the Court remanded the case back to the Board for re-adjudication. They are currently working on gathering evidence to convince the Board that the veteran did in fact seek VA assistance with filing a claim for schizophrenia when he left service. If successful, the veteran could receive a large amount of back-owed benefits which will have an enormous impact on his current quality of life.
“Working with TVC has been a tremendous experience and continuing to represent our client before the BVA was a very easy decision. Everyone on the team feels committed to the case and wanted to stay on to make sure the client gets the compensation he is owed. A big part of what makes this work so enjoyable is the chance to get to know our clients and to see first-hand how much of an impact our work can have.”
Tom Derbish, Esq.
Raymond Habbaz, TVC Volunteer and the grandson of a Korean War veteran, represented a veteran on remand for a case that former colleague, Michael Jenks, and he won at the CAVC. This was Raymond’s first time representing a veteran, and it was a big win! Raymond and his colleague, Laurie Stempler, took the remanded case. The veteran served in the U.S. Army and U.S. Navy and suffered from bilateral hearing loss and tinnitus as a result of serving on board the USS Eisenhower. The Board denied his claims for hearing loss and tinnitus, finding that there was no indication that these conditions were related to service. The Desmarais team found proof in the record that he was exposed to high decibel noise for extended periods of time and the case was remanded to the Board. Raymond represented the veteran at this stage, obtaining a medical opinion from a private examiner when the case returned to the Board. This resulted in the Board granting service connection for tinnitus and hearing loss. The veteran received approximately $14,000 in a lump sum payment and is now receiving $142 a month going forward. Raymond also argued for attorneys’ fees under the Equal Access to Justice Act, which were granted and donated to TVC.
“I am so glad we decided to continue our representation of our client at the BVA. While it felt great to win a remand at the CAVC, the call to the veteran after we won at the BVA felt wonderful. He was so grateful that the issue was finally resolved and that he would see a check in the mail with his benefits. Special thanks to Katy Clemens who helped us with the CAVC case & Samantha Farish who helped us navigate the BVA process.”
Raymond Habbaz, Esq.
"These two cases are powerful examples of clear proof that existed in the record but was overlooked by the Board when the veterans initially appealed their claims at the BVA. Having a trained attorney digging into the record to find evidence is critical to the outcome of the remand in many cases. We're fortunate to have a very capable & dedicated team at Desmarais as part of our TVC National Volunteer Corps."
Samantha Farish, Esq.
Equal Justice Works Fellow, Sponsored by Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP
Manager of the TVC Veterans Benefits Advocacy Program