By Vetan Kapoor, J.D. ’17
Last year, a Vietnam-era veteran who served in the Navy honorably for several years asked the Commonwealth of Massachusetts for help. He had a dental condition that required emergency medical treatment, but could not afford to pay for the procedures and his insurance did not cover the full costs. Massachusetts offers veterans below a certain income threshold financial assistance for such emergencies, but the veteran must first apply, and the application must be approved by a city caseworker and the state’s Department of Veteran Services.
So, the veteran applied, provided evidence of the serious nature of his condition, and submitted his dentist’s proposed treatment plan. His application was improperly denied, and the veteran spent the better part of a year trying to find some way to obtain the care he needed. The reason for the denial? A caseworker wrongly decided that money the veteran had borrowed to pay for a graduate degree enabling him to serve as a counselor for other veterans disqualified him from receiving assistance.
Over the past year, I have represented this veteran and several others through the Veterans Legal Clinic. I have had the honor of representing clients before the state’s administrative agency, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, and the federal Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims. Each matter has brought its own set of challenges and learning experiences. For example, my work in the emergency benefits case involved tough negotiations with the General Counsel of the Massachusetts Department of Veterans Services, informal advocacy, coordination with the veteran’s caseworker, and appearances before a magistrate judge. Eventually, the state agreed to provide the veteran with the financial assistance he needed to receive treatment.
My time with the Veterans Legal Clinic has been extremely rewarding. I have learned a great deal about how the law impacts the veteran community on a daily basis, and have honed my negotiation, advocacy, and legal writing skills. But the most gratifying aspect has been the interactions I have had with my clients. Being able to learn about their lives, to hear some of their stories, and to fight for successful outcomes in their legal cases has been one of the highlights of my time here at Harvard Law School.
Massachusetts is home to about 330,000 veterans, 27% of whom have some form of disability. Nationwide, over 3.8 million veterans have a disability, while nearly 1.5 million live in poverty. I am very thankful to the Clinic for giving me the chance to learn more about the issues impacting veterans and to make a modest, positive impact in the lives of some of those who have served our country. There remains more work to be done!