November 2016 VIP: Vincent Petrocelli
"Being a veteran becomes an enduring part of one's self-image. Whether the military experience was positive or negative, in wartime or peacetime, traumatic or not, a person’s service experience is indelibly imprinted on their heart and mind. I am no exception.
"I am many things – a father, son, spouse, citizen and friend. But it is impossible for me to define my life without reference to being a veteran. It is a filter through which all my experiences pass. As an Army veteran of Vietnam, I was fortunate. I returned home physically whole, and my psychic scars, relative to many of my comrades, are minor. However, I well remember the alienation I felt on my return to the United States, and the difficulty I experienced finding a place among those who didn't serve. I was lucky, but being lucky has not diminished the anger and disappointment I felt then, and still feel, about our country’s treatment of its veterans.
"A country so adept at creating veterans should be equally capable of caring for them. Because military service entails special sacrifices, not shared by civilians, veterans deserve and have earned special consideration. Unfortunately, our country often fails in providing this consideration. While we seem to have inexhaustible resources while prosecuting a war, budget limitations dictate the Department Of Veterans Affairs ability to care for our returning soldiers. This is not a criticism of those who work at the VA; many are concerned and devoted to veterans’ well-being. However, it is a disservice to veterans to make them fight for what they have already earned. As a veteran and an attorney, their fight is mine.
"The Veterans’ Consortium Pro Bono Program is an ally in this fight. The support and guidance provided by the Consortium is invaluable, especially for volunteers whose legal experience in veterans’ rights law is limited. Because of the Consortium’s assistance, I had the privilege of successfully representing a veteran before the U.S. Court Of Appeals for Veteran’s Claims. Although the win was gratifying, the VA errors made in our case were so obvious that the issues brought before the Court Of Appeals should have been resolved, years before, at the Regional Office or the Board of Veterans Appeals levels.
"Unfortunately, many such errors populate the decisions made by the VA. While recognizing the need for the Department Of Veterans Affairs to set regulatory criteria for awarding benefits, requiring veterans, especially those who served in combat areas, to verify unverifiable experiences, or procure information under the control of the government, is a burden too great. In my experience, this burden is not only a major challenge to veterans and the attorneys who represent them, but also reflects poorly on a country that professes to care about its veterans' well‑being.
"As a veterans’ rights attorney, it is also clear to me that veterans’ legal requirements extend beyond medical and disability issues. Attorneys can also help ensure fair treatment for veterans by fighting to protect veterans’ employment, housing and civil rights. Fighting for the rights of others is the noblest expression of the duty inherent in the practice of law. For me, this duty can best be satisfied by fighting for the rights of my fellow veterans, and I am grateful to the Consortium for the opportunity and assistance it provides."