EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

New Hampshire

June 13, 2013

NH Sen. urges benefits equality, legal aid for vets

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen urged members of the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs Wednesday to pass bills that would bring benefits equality to same-sex military couples and would enhance law school programs that provide free legal services to veterans.

Shaheen co-sponsored the Charlie Morgan Military Spouses Equal Treatment Act — named for New Hampshire National Guard Chief Warrant Officer Charlie Morgan, whose wife and daughter were denied survivor and other benefits after Morgan’s death from breast cancer early this year.

Morgan crusaded for equal treatment of same-sex military couples.

“After Charlie’s diagnosis in 2008, she and her wife spoke repeatedly about how these practices against same-sex couples would devastate their family if Charlie died,” Shaheen testified. “We must ensure that all our military families who have sacrificed so much have access to the services and treatment they need and deserve.”

Shaheen on Wednesday also touted another bill she co-sponsored that would allow the VA to coordinate with law schools that offer legal services to veterans. She said 18 states have law school clinics for veterans but the goal is to have one in every state.

“By counseling veterans with their disability claims, law students are turning incredibly complex stories and injuries into organized benefits applications that are exponentially reducing VA’s processing time for the most complicated cases in the backlog,” she said.

Shaheen’s testimony was delivered the same day VA Secretary Eric Shinseki visited the Manchester VA Regional Office to decry the delays for processing benefits applications while promising relief by 2015 through implementation of a new electronic Veterans Benefits Management System.

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