This guide provides information about selected electronic and print resources that are useful for researching veterans' rights.
The main focus is on benefits advocacy, along with remedies related to military discharge and military records, but selected additional material is included in other relevant areas.
Lexis and Westlaw (HLS only - login credentials required) both have topic areas dedicated to veterans and/or military law with relevant primary and secondary sources.
On the Lexis+ Topic: Military & Veterans Law page, click Veterans to view materials (cases, statutes, secondary sources, administrative materials and more) on the following topics:
On the Practice Areas page, select Military Law to see relevant materials
Decisions and Opinions
Veterans interact with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for receipt of benefits and services, as well as with the Department of Defense for claims involving discharge from military service. The first point of recourse for a dispute with an agency determination is administrative; thus advocacy for veterans generally begins before a federal agency tribunal.
In general, litigation in the federal courts is only available after the entire administrative tribunals process has been exhausted and there is a final agency decision. Appeals are typically taken to the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims or the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.
Congress has enacted many laws providing for and/or protecting veterans benefits, and authority to create regulations to carry out these laws is typically delegated to the VA. Look to the United States Code and the Code of Federal Regulations respectively for statutes and regulations.
On the state level, the Department of Veterans' Services administers benefits for Massachusetts. Appeals are taken to the Massachusetts Division of Administrative Law Appeals and, if necessary, to the court system. The Massachusetts General Laws and the Code of Massachusetts Regulations contain various statutes and regulations governing availability, eligibility and application of benefits.
Use the dropdown menu below to learn more about finding administrative decisions, regulations, cases, and statutes.
Depending on the case, the agency involved will be the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs or the U.S. Department of Defense.
The United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) administers benefits-related services for veterans:
VA benefits and services are generally only available to veterans that were discharged from service under "other than dishonorable conditions," although the VA can make a determination that expands this availability to those who received certain types of dishonorable discharges. For more information on this topic, visit https://www.benefits.va.gov/benefits/character_of_discharge.asp.
The M21-1 Adjudication Procedures Manual (eBook from the VA website) provides information about eligibility for military benefits, claimant's rights, and the VA's procedures for examinations, authorizations, and more.
VA Decision Reviews and Appeals
A veteran who disagrees with a benefits-related decision issued by the VA has three options for getting the decision reviewed:
VA: Board of Veterans Appeals Decisions (via Westlaw - HLS only; login credentials required)
VA: General Counsel Opinions (via Westlaw - HLS only; login credentials required)
The Department of Defense (DOD) handles veterans' claims related to their discharge from military service. These types of claims primarily involve discharge upgrades and corrections, which may impact the availability and amount of benefits a veteran can receive from the VA. Instructions for applying for a discharge upgrade are available at https://www.va.gov/discharge-upgrade-instructions/.
The DOD organizations responsible for handling these claims include Boards for the Correction of Military Records (BCMR) and Discharge Review Boards (DRB). These boards are in place for each branch of the military.
If administrative remedies are insufficient to resolve a dispute - and there has been a final agency decision - appeals may be taken to the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims or the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims is a court of record. It was established in 1988 as the U.S. Court of Veterans Appeals, and renamed as the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims in 1999. It has exclusive jurisdiction over decisions of the Board of Veterans' Appeals. Decisions may come from a single judge or a panel of judges, and those issued by the full panel of judges are published in the Veterans Appeals Reporter.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit is an Article III court created in 1982, and is one of the thirteen Circuit Courts of Appeals. It has nationwide jurisdiction of multiple areas, including veterans claims. The court has limited jurisdiction to review decisions from the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims.
Federal laws pertinent to veterans and the military may be found under various sections of the United States Code, mostly under Title 38: Veterans' Benefits, and Title 50: War and National Defense.
Some of the major legislation includes the following:
The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) is a 1994 law that protects military service members and veterans from employment discrimination based on their service, and allows them to regain their civilian jobs after return from duty. It is codified at 38 USCA § 4301 et seq.
The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) is codified at 50 U.S.C. §§ 3901 et seq. Signed into law in 2003, its purpose is to suspend or postpone certain civil obligations to allow the service member to focus on their military duties. Among the protections SCRA allows are protection from eviction, mortgage payment relief, termination of automobile and residential leases, stays of judicial proceedings, and interest rate caps.
The Sergeant First Class (SFC) Heath Robinson Honoring our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act is a recent law (August 2022) that expands and extends eligibility for VA health care for Veterans with toxic exposures during military service. It appears in the U.S. Code in various sections of Title 38.
The Massachusetts Department of Veterans' Services (DVS) administers support services and emergency financial assistance for veterans in the state.
Appeals of agency decisions, including those issued by the DVS, are heard by the Massachusetts Division of Administrative Law Appeals (DALA), and, if necessary, the Massachusetts Superior Court.
Massachusetts' laws concerning veterans and the military are contained in various parts of the Massachusetts General Laws, but mostly in Title XVII: Public Welfare and Title V: Militia.
Look to Chapter 115 of the Massachusetts General Laws for laws on Veterans Benefits.
Books and e-books may be found through the HOLLIS catalog as well as through various databases. Use the dropdown menu below to see selected texts organized in the following categories:
Click on the "i" icon for the publishers' descriptions
Articles about veterans' issues and military law may appear in any law journal, but there are some that specialize in this area. For example:
Links above are to the Law Journal Library in HeinOnline. Search for other publications via the database link below.
Westlaw and Lexis also have a good collection of law review and law journal articles. For interdisciplinary research in such areas as health, psychology, history, politics and economics, consult JSTOR.
Multiple resources exist on the federal and state levels to help connect veterans and their family members with richly-deserved benefits and services, including education and job training, healthcare, mental health and counseling, housing, financial, and legal assistance.
The primary benefits administrators and aggregators of information are as follows:
Some category-specific recommendations are included below. Also see this guide's page on Veterans' Advocates and Organizations for additional help.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs offers education benefits for veterans, service members, qualified family members or survivors. Find information on the GI Bill, Post-911 GI Bill, Montgomery GI Bill, VEAP (Veterans Education Assistance Program) and more to help pay for college, graduate school or training programs.
Tuition waivers may be available to veterans or active members of the armed forces stationed in Massachusetts under the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education's Categorical Tuition Waiver.
Additionally, veterans and members of the Massachusetts National Guard may qualify for tuition and/or fee waivers at state schools, colleges and universities (contact the Veterans' Representative at the particular college/university for further information and to apply).
If a veteran has a less-than-honorable discharge, it may be more difficult to access VA benefits. This guide from the Veterans Legal Services and the Veterans Legal Clinic at the Legal Services Center of Harvard Law School offers advice:
The Veterans Law Unit (VLU) is a part of the WilmerHale Legal Services Center, a general practice community law office in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts. The VLU's Veterans Legal Clinic represents veterans and their family members who otherwise do not have access to attorney representation with legal matters including veterans' benefits cases; access to VA (and other) healthcare; discharge upgrades and correction of military records; and estate planning. Second and third-year Harvard Law students work alongside experienced attorneys/clinical instructors to advise clients.
Within the Veterans Law Unit, the Veterans Law and Disability Benefits Clinic works specifically on matters involving access to Massachusetts Veterans' Services Benefits, VA benefits and VA healthcare.
National Organization of Veterans' Advocates (NOVA) is a not-for-profit organization incorporated in 1993 in Washington, DC, consisting of attorneys and other members who advocate for disabled veterans. NOVA offers conferences and trainings for its members, and helps connect interested veterans with attorneys throughout the country that can help appeal a VA disability claim or represent them before the VA, the Board of Veterans' Appeals, or the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims.
National Veterans Legal Services Program (NVLSP) is a non-profit organization formed in 1981 to advocate for disability benefits for veterans and active duty personnel. NVLSP's "Lawyers Serving Warriors Program" offers pro-bono legal help with discharge upgrades, combat related special compensation, correction of military records and more.
Administered by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Department of Veterans' Services, "SAVE is a peer outreach program that connects veterans with peers to help them access benefits, services, and supports, and support their overall mental health." It advocates for veterans who "are not able to obtain the benefits they have earned due to institutional or personal barriers." It works closely and in collaboration with the Massachusetts National Guard.
Created by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Department of Veterans Services, the Women Veterans' Network is the "central resource for Women Veterans in Massachusetts" aimed at connecting women who served in the military with benefits they earned.
The Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims Bar Association is a non-profit organization "created to improve and facilitate the administration of justice in the United States Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims". It connects attorneys working in the area of veterans law with educational and professional networking opportunities, and also publishes the Veterans Law Journal.
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Special thanks to Jennifer Allison, Research Librarian, for her contributions to the initial version of this guide.