Those who serve in the military risk everything to serve our country, leaving their homes and families and putting their lives at risk to protect us. But who protects them?
The treatment of veterans has become a national crisis. The Veterans Administration (VA) is in chaos and men and women who served are being neglected, with many never getting access to the benefits they deserve.
The law firm of Pond Lehocky Stern Giordano is not just talking about solutions, it’s taking action. The Firm, whose mantra is “put clients first, always,” is finding ways to help those who put our country first.
Managing Partner Sam Pond leads the call to action to end what he labels a “national disgrace.”
“The lack of awareness of what’s going on with our veterans… we need to do something about it,” Pond said. “Words are not enough. We need action to defend the men and women who’ve served. The families of those who have serve. We need to protect them.”
He pointed out that 22 veteran and active-duty servicemembers take their own lives each day.
“To say that the road is long and tortuous for those trying to get vet benefits would be the understatement of 2018,” Pond said. “In some cases, it’s 25 years if we get the case remanded back. Many veterans die before they get their day in court, before they get their benefits.”
“We have to do better,” he added.
Army Vet Heeds the Call
Pond Lehocky is uniquely positioned to do so, with attorney and former Army Platoon Leader Nick Liermann heading the charge. Liermann heads Pond Lehocky’s TSGLI (Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance Traumatic Injury Protection) practice group, the only such practice for veterans in our region.
Who better to serve veterans than a veteran who understands their needs?
For Liermann, life in the military began when he joined the ROTC at the University of Pittsburgh to help pay his tuition. He got hooked on the military life and served on active duty for four years with the Army as a Platoon Leader in a Patriot Missile Battalion, including a deployment as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom. After a break in service, Liermann joined the US Army Reserve as a JAG officer six years ago.
Liermann’s mission now is to educate veterans about the benefits owed to them—benefits they likely have never heard of.
TSGLI: What Vets Need to Know
“There is a benefit that’s not frequently discussed and not known by probably 99 percent of servicemembers,” Liermann said. “Nearly all servicemembers carry SGLI – a life insurance policy. What they don’t realize is a traumatic injury policy is included as part of this.”
Those benefits cover service members injured on or off duty and are instrumental to support them after they have sustained a serious injury.
“If you get injured on or off duty, if you’re a servicemember, you’re eligible,” he added.
All service members who served after October 2001 are eligible for TSGLI, whether they were active duty, reserves or National Guard members. The benefit covers service members who are hurt by an “external force,” which may be as serious as an IED or as minor as a foot striking the ground while running.
To be eligible, the service member must have required assistance with the activities of daily living for at least two weeks, required hospitalization or suffered limb or sensory loss.
Your Money; No Time Limit
TSGLI benefits are separate from VA disability benefits. The benefits can “help bridge the gap,” Liermann said.
“If you get hurt, before your VA benefits kick in, this will help alleviate that strain,“ he said.
Liermann also stressed that these benefits are earned—service members have been paying for them out of their paychecks all along.
In addition, there is no time limit to make a claim.
“The best part—there’s no time limit to claim what you’re owed,” Liermann said. “There is no statute of limitations.”
USERRA: Know Your Rights, Keep Your Job
Another law that Liermann wants service members to know about is that Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA), which bars employers from discriminating against workers because of their military service. Among other things, the law protects service members’ jobs when they miss time because of military obligations.
Liermann said he has been lucky during his time in the Army Reserve, because when he has been called up for active duty, “no one batted an eye.” Not everyone has been that lucky. Too many employers fail to hold service members’ jobs.
USERRA is there to ensure service members are not fighting for their jobs when they return from active duty, or miss out on raises and promotions they would have received.
“It’s not always done purposely. It may be as simple as calling your employer and letting them know of that protection,” Liermann noted.
In some cases, the employer might acknowledge their ignorance of the law. Other times, it might not be so easy. In those cases, the law provides that service members can seek compensation for lost wages and benefits, as well as and damages up to double that amount.
Education is the Key
As with every other area of the law, the most important mission for lawyers representing those who have country is to educate them about their rights.
“We’ve just begun in educating people of the law, of their rights, of the Constitution because that’s where it all starts,” Pond said.
He said the message about helping veterans needs to be spread.
“Call your neighbor call your friends, we’ve got to get this out on loudspeakers,” he added.
Liermann is appealing directly to veterans to reach out to get the help they need.
“If you’re a veteran, and you have a question, pick up the phone and call me. I speak your language. I’ve been where you’ve been,” he said. “It won’t cost you anything and if it’s something I can help you with, great. If it’s not, I’ll find you someone I trust.”
To find out if you are eligible for benefits or have been wronged by an employer, email Nick Liermann and the Pond Lehocky TSGLI team at TSGLI@pondlehocky.com or call 800-568-7500.