Attorney who led VCS lawsuit against VA honored in series of articles about his legacy

A series of articles on toxic exposures in the June issue of The American Legion Magazine pays tribute to attorney Gordon Erspamer, whose many landmark cases in his distinguished career  included leading the Veterans for Common Sense lawsuit in 2007 against the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

The article by Ken Olsen, entitled, “Gordon Erspamer, a pro bono champion who improved benefits for generations of veterans,” describes the VCS vs. VA case and its significance for veterans.  Erspamer died of brain cancer in 2014.

Gordon Erspamer set out to fight for his father’s VA claim and changed the lives of millions of former servicemembers, winning disability benefits for atomic veterans, post-traumatic stress disorder care for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, and treatment for Cold War veterans who were subjected to chemical weapons testing.

“‘He was tireless in fighting to make sure people who served their country got what they deserved,’ says Stacey Sprenkel, an attorney at Morrison & Foerster in San Francisco, which worked with Erspamer on some of his pro bono lawsuits. ‘He inspired a generation of us to advocate for veterans.’

“Sprenkel worked with Erspamer on Veterans for Common Sense v. Shinseki, which challenged delays in mental health care, delays in PTSD compensation claim decisions, and other significant issues faced by returning Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who were taking their own lives at an unprecedented rate. They found evidence showing a veteran waited an average of about four years from the time they filed a VA claim to when they received a decision from the Board of Veterans’ Appeals.

“They lost when the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the federal courts didn’t have jurisdiction to adjudicate the case. But the case focused media attention on the unmet mental health-care needs of post-9/11 veterans. VA created a national suicide hotline, placed suicide prevention coordinators in all VA medical centers, made it simpler for veterans with PTSD to file disability claims, and expanded care for returning veterans to five years.

“‘Gordy’s lawsuit resulted in improved VA care and benefits for millions of veterans, and that will last decades into the future – because he improved the system,’ says Paul Sullivan, who was executive director of Veterans for Common Sense, the lead plaintiff in the case, during the litigation. The lawsuit also forced VA to reveal that its own data showed 22 veterans a day were completing suicide.”

The full article is available in the June 2018 issue of The American Legion Magazine.  

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