An increasing number of veterans are returning from the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan with disabilities. Under federal law they are entitled to benefits, but obtaining those benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs has become increasingly difficult.

The Connecticut Trial Lawyers Association thinks that’s not fair, so in order to level the playing field, they will assist disabled veterans in filing the complicated forms and paperwork necessary to succeed in the appellate court.

Statistics show about 70 percent of veterans appear before the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims without an attorney. This puts the mostly disabled veterans at a disadvantage, CTLA Executive Director, Neil Ferstand has said.

While it’s unknown how many veterans will need these free services, at least one attorney in the state has been trained to handle the cases.

Attorney Matthew E. Auger, of the New London firm of Suisman, Shapiro, Wool, Brennan, Gray & Greenberg, PC, said he was trained by the Veterans Consortium Pro Bono Program in Washington DC. He said the consortium’s staff attorney’s screen the appeals and mentor the pro bono attorney through the appeals process. And in turn, Auger will train other Connecticut trial attorneys to assist with the appellate process.

He said filing an appeal is a three step process that could take years. He said first is the regional appeal, then the appeal to the Veterans Board of Administrative Appeals, and finally the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims. He said attorneys aren’t able to get involved until an appeal goes to the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims. But that’s no to say they won’t offer a little free advice along the way.

Auger said shortly after this program was mentioned on NBC he received a phone call from a Plainville veteran filing for disability benefits. He said the veteran suffered from manic depression and bipolar disorder and was told by the Veteran Affairs office that he would be denied benefits. Auger, a retired Naval Reserve Captain, said he explained to the veteran what kind of medical referral he needed to obtain benefits.

In general, veterans need to show how the disability is service related and nine times out of 10 if this connection is made the disability benefits will be granted, Auger said.

For more information on the program click here.