Sidley Austin managing associate Robert Uhl was featured by KDFW Ch. 4 in Dallas for his pro bono work helping veterans navigate the complicated process to obtain the combat-related benefits they’ve earned.
Work by Mr. Uhl and Sidley Austin’s pro bono project with Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran Shermika Thomas spanned three years and several rounds of appeals. A former Army sergeant, Ms. Thomas suffered physical and mental disabilities from firefights and vehicle-borne IEDs. She was also exposed to toxic fumes from working in burn pits in Afghanistan.
A pro bono champion
Mr. Uhl was recognized as a “Pro Bono Champion” by the State Bar of Texas Access to Justice Commission based on his pro bono work.
“Shermika’s case is a good illustration of both the benefits that are available to a veteran,” Mr. Uhl told KDFW. “There are certainly a lot that the government offers, and they are fantastic. But the process can often be difficult to navigate.”
“Oftentimes, the burden of proof is the hardest thing because veterans are used to applying to the VA and other military bodies with all sorts of standardized forms. Those forms are helpful, but they often don’t explain the whole process related to an application,” Mr. Uhl said. “There are court options. There are appeal options and even nuances within the application that are important to make when applying for the first time. And oftentimes, veterans who are trying to navigate this process on their own aren’t able to decipher the code, so to speak.”
The numbers are significant: nearly four million veterans received disability compensation according to the last census.
Thomas is now one of them after being approved for 100% disability.
“They’ve done such a thorough job in everything when I couldn’t speak for myself, when I couldn’t stand up for myself,” she said.
Thomas says Uhl has made all the difference.
“I can’t thank him enough,” she said. “I feel like without him and his team, I wouldn’t have been here talking to you today.”