WASHINGTON — Today, Covington & Burling LLP, in coordination with the National Veterans Legal Services Program (NVLSP), filed a class action complaint in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, to ensure that Navy and Marine Reservists with service-connected injuries are able to access their earned disability retirement benefits.
Military disability retirement benefits are critical to veterans who are injured during their military service, and who depend on them for access to healthcare and other benefits for the service member and his or her family. Currently, the Navy has created a quintessential Catch-22.
All Reserve Sailors and Marines must obtain a line of duty benefits letter to receive disability processing for retirement benefits, but no formal process exists to enable eligible Reservists to obtain the required letter. The complaint, brought under the Administrative Procedure Act, seeks declaratory and injunctive relief to provide these veterans’ access to the disability retirement process as required by law.
“I hope this lawsuit helps service members, who like me, were unquestionably injured in the line of duty,” said Richard Henderson, a former Builder Petty Officer First Class and Class representative, who was injured in Afghanistan in 2014.
“I was medically evacuated from Afghanistan for injuries I sustained while evading rocket fire. Nonetheless, I was not offered access to the Navy’s duty-related disability retirement system. Instead, I was separated as if my injuries had occurred while I was off active duty orders. Now, because the Navy denied me a medical retirement, I am without the healthcare I need.”
Like Mr. Henderson, LaKia Beasley, also a combat veteran and a Class representative, was wrongfully denied duty-related disability retirement processing. “It was impossible for me, an experienced Chief Petty Officer who served for 10 years on active duty to prevent my unlawful separation.
If someone like me, with knowledge of how the military works, support from leadership and abundant documentation of being diagnosed on active duty, cannot get duty-related disability system processing, then I am deeply concerned for personnel who are likely unaware what is required or how to advocate for it.”
“With today’s lawsuit, Covington is proud to continue its long tradition of pro bono service to veterans who have served their nation,” said Covington Partner Andrew Soukup. “Plaintiffs LaKia Beasley and Richard Henderson honorably served our country and were both seriously injured in the line of duty. With their sacrifice, they have earned the disability benefits that the Navy has denied them. Our Covington team is honored to represent our clients and the class in the pursuit of the benefits they are entitled to.”
“As a military spouse and dedicated military disability advocate, what happened to Mr. Henderson, Ms. Beasley and our Class members is disheartening,” said Esther Leibfarth, Senior Staff Attorney at NVLSP.
“These Reservists and their families served with the understanding that if disabled in the line of duty, and unable to continue their service, the Navy would compensate and care for them. Then, when these Reservists were disabled, in need of the promised benefits, they were denied benefits. In fact, the Navy inexplicably refused to even provide the process required to obtain these much needed benefits. This litigation simply seeks to force the Navy to make good on the promise it made to these injured Reservists and their families.”
The Covington pro bono team includes Andrew Soukup, Ranganath Sudarshan, Jeffrey Huberman, Nora Eccles, and Chip Hall.
The NVLSP team includes Director of Lawyers Serving Warriors® pro bono program of NVLSP Rochelle Bobroff, Litigation Director Renee Burbank and Senior Staff Attorneys Esther Leibfarth and David Sonenshine.
In an increasingly regulated world, Covington & Burling LLP provides corporate, litigation, and regulatory expertise to help clients navigate their most complex business problems, deals, and disputes. Founded in 1919, the firm has more than 1,300 lawyers in offices in Beijing, Brussels, Dubai, Frankfurt, Johannesburg, London, Los Angeles, New York, Palo Alto, San Francisco, Seoul, Shanghai, and Washington.
Since its founding, Covington has been committed not only to the highest professional standards of representation but also to public service. The firm’s pro bono program has long been acknowledged as preeminent in the legal community—our work is anchored in providing legal assistance to people and organizations of limited means in our surrounding communities, and we frequently take on challenging matters that affect the most vulnerable clients and address broader systemic issues and public rights.
The National Veterans Legal Services Program (NVLSP) is an independent, nonprofit veterans service organization that has served active duty military personnel and veterans since 1981. NVLSP strives to ensure that our nation honors its commitment to its 22 million veterans and active duty personnel by ensuring they have the benefits they have earned through their service to our country.
NVLSP has represented veterans in lawsuits that compelled enforcement of the law where the VA or other military services denied benefits to veterans in violation of the law. NVLSP’s success in these lawsuits has resulted in more than $5.2 billion dollars being awarded in disability, death and medical benefits to hundreds of thousands of veterans and their survivors.
NVLSP offers training for attorneys and other advocates; connects veterans and active duty personnel with pro bono legal help when seeking disability benefits; publishes the nation’s definitive guide on veteran benefits; and represents and litigates for veterans and their families before the VA, military discharge review agencies and federal courts. For more information go to www.nvlsp.org.