For the third year in a row, Jenner & Block has been named to The National Law Journal’s “Pro Bono Hot List.” Only 10 law firms across the United States made the 2016 list.
The profile of the firm in the NLJ Pro Bono Special Report focuses on the firm's representation of Vietnam War veterans seeking to upgrade less-than-honorable discharges they received due to behavior that can now be attributed to post-traumatic stress disorder related to their service. PTSD was not recognized as a medical disorder until 1980, after the war had ended. It is estimated that tens of thousands of Vietnam veterans who received less-than-honorable discharges suffer from PTSD.
The article quotes Partner Jeremy M. Creelan, who learned about the veterans’ situation while watching a segment of “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” and followed up with the Yale Law School Veterans Legal Services Clinic to offer pro bono assistance. The article also mentions Partner Susan J. Kohlmann, who, with Mr. Creelan, led the firm’s team that co-counseled with Yale in representing a putative class of these veterans in a lawsuit against the secretaries of the Army, Navy and Air Force.
In large part as a result of the lawsuit and the publicity surrounding it, then-Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel issued a memo outlining a new policy requiring Boards for Correction of Military Records to give liberal consideration to Vietnam War veteran applications for discharge upgrades on the basis of service-related PTSD diagnosed after the war. Pursuant to this guidance, the boards granted upgrades to all of the named plaintiffs in the lawsuit, making them eligible for benefits they were previously denied. Further, as a result of that memo, the rate by which veterans have received upgraded discharges has skyrocketed from less than five percent to more than 65 percent. Such upgrades mean access to veterans services as well as the removal of a life-long stigma that has plagued these veterans.
Along with Mr. Creelan and Ms. Kohlmann, other members of the team included Partner Gianni P. Servodidio, Associate Christina J. Gilligan, law clerk Kara Trowell, senior paralegal Cheryl Olson, paralegal coordinator Judy Lao, paralegal Jeff Phillips, project assistant Casey Connolly, legal secretary Beth Gulden, former associates Ava McAlpin and Marina Jenkins and former paralegal Mark Scholl.