James Silkenat.
James Silkenat. (Photo: Diego M. Radzinschi/NLJ)

The American Bar Association is launching a pro bono initiative aimed at helping veterans with disability claims caught up in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ backlog.

The agency receives 900,000 new claims each year and it can take more than 200 days for officials to determine whether the applicant is entitled to benefits.

The ABA’s new Veteran’s Claims Assistance Program represents a partnership with the V.A., but will require volunteer help from hundreds of lawyers.

“Lawyers fundamentally understand what it takes to assemble evidence and present a persuasive case,” ABA President James Silkenat said. “It’s a natural fit to engage the skills of lawyers with the need of veterans for assistance in making their cases to the V.A. for disability compensation. The ABA is happy it can assist in expediting the backlogged claims.”

The pilot program will start this summer by helping veterans with backlogged claims in the V.A.’s Chicago and St. Petersburg, Fla., offices. Eligible veterans—those without legal representation—will be identified by the V.A. and given the opportunity to seek help though the ABA program.

Pro bono lawyers will review claims for missing information or a lack of supporting documents. Then the V.A. will expedite its review of the claims, providing quicker access to disability benefits.

Administrators estimate that 3,500 veterans are eligible for the program.

The volunteer attorneys don’t need to be based in Chicago or St. Petersburg, nor do they need experience in disability claims law, administrators said. The V.A. will accredit the attorneys and the ABA and Legal Services Corp. will provide basic training. More complex disability claims likely would be directed to attorneys with more experience.

Contact Karen Sloan at ksloan@alm.com. For more of The National Law Journal’s law school coverage, visit: http://www.facebook.com/NLJLawSchools.