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Mayer Brown Wins Veterans Benefits Appeal for PTSD Disability Benefits

26 June 2009
Mayer Brown Article

The Board of Veterans’ Appeals has reversed a decision by the VA Regional Office and awarded disability benefits to our client, Mr. H.  Mr. H., a former US Marine, suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a result of racially motivated attacks against him while at the Marine training unit at Camp LeJeune, North Carolina. He was represented pro bono by Washington Associate Laurie Gussow, under the supervision of Washington Counsel Kenneth Weinstein, who also second-chaired the appeal hearing.

In 1970, less than one year after enlisting in the Marine Corps, Mr. H. suffered a racially motivated beating from, and ongoing racial harassment and intimidation by, soldiers in his unit.  When he reported the actions, his sergeant threatened additional harm if the allegations were repeated.  The sergeant also failed to document Mr. H.’s claims.

Shortly thereafter, Mr. H. began to experience symptoms now known to be consistent with PTSD.  Although he was admitted to the Naval Hospital in Boston for psychological care, the military doctors diagnosed him as having a pre-existing personality disorder, rather than PTSD, and his medical records did not refer to the attack or the related harassment. Within a month of being hospitalized, Mr. H. was given an honorable (not medical) discharge.

Mr. H.continued to experience a variety of PTSD-related symptoms and, in August 2002, he filed a claim for veterans’ disability benefits. His claim was denied by the VA’s Regional Office on the basis that he had not shown that his PTSD was related to a specific “stressor” that occurred during the period that he was in the Marines.

During the hearing before the Board of Veterans’ Appeals, Mr. H. recounted the physical attack and racial abuse he suffered while in the Marine Corps.  Despite the absence of documentation, the Appeals Law Judge found to be credible the statements made by Mr. H. and his family concerning the attacks and the changes to his personality afterwards. In addition, the Mayer Brown team was able to point out inconsistencies in the medical reports in Mr. H.’s file. Mr. H. was awarded veterans’ benefits based upon his PTSD at a 50 percent disability level, retroactive to August 2002.

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