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Do homework before inking legal contracts

Hundreds of calls have flooded the Veterans Services offices in Trumbull and Mahoning counties in recent weeks, triggered largely by advertisements placed by attorneys seeking out clients for lawsuits they want to launch against the government over contaminated water at Camp Lejeune.

Officials at the two local veterans services offices believe the ads are deceiving, and some of the attorneys in them could be considered predatory.

“The TV ads are harmful to veterans and leading them down the path of misinformation,” Herm Breuer, the Trumbull County Veterans Services Commission’s executive director, recently told our reporter.

Based on the number of callers to the local veteran offices, we fear that many more might just be signing on the dotted line without first doing their due diligence.

We caution all veterans and all viewers to be very cautious and proceed slowly before jumping into any agreements triggered by this type of advertising. To put it simply, do your homework.

In this instance, phones at local veteran services commissions started ringing shortly after the commercials and infomercials started clogging airwaves. The ads also have been run on the radio and internet, in direct-mail pieces and other forms of advertising.

Not coincidentally, last month President Joe Biden signed the Sgt. First Class Heath Robinson Honoring Our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act.

Among other things, the act expands Department of Veterans Affairs health care and benefits to veterans exposed to burn pits and other toxic substances. Burn pits were used in Iraq and Afghanistan to dispose of chemicals, cans, tires, plastics, medical equipment and human waste. Previously, about 70 percent of disability claims involving exposure to the pits had been denied by the VA before the bill was approved.

Now the law directs VA officials to assume that certain respiratory illnesses and cancers were related to exposure to burn pits and to help veterans get disability payments without having to prove the illness was the result of their service.

Also in the bill is a provision allowing veterans — and their dependents — stationed at Camp Lejeune, a Marine base in Jacksonville, N.C., or the Marine Corps Air Station New River between Aug. 1, 1953, and Dec. 31, 1987, the rare ability to directly sue the federal government for civil damages caused by contaminated water at the base. The water was contaminated by chemicals used as degreasers, dry-cleaning solvents and for other purposes.

Previously, veterans and family members who lived at Camp Lejeune were permitted to receive health care funding assistance only for specific health conditions.

While the new law may be warranted, many of the reactions by attorneys and others seeking to find clients that would likely pay them a percentage of any legal award, may not be.

“With the ads, we’re getting hundreds of calls from relatives of those who were at Camp Lejeune asking if they’re eligible to sue,” Susan Krawchyk, the Mahoning County Veterans Service Commission’s executive director, said. “I’d hate to see someone go to an attorney because they’ll lose money. If there’s a valid claim, we can help them. But we’re getting a lot of invalid claims.”

Breuer and Krawchyk warn that because of attorney fees, veterans could end up losing money. They strongly advise veterans and their families to do research, call their offices and seek very reputable lawyers before signing any legal contracts.

We urge veterans and, frankly, anyone who sees commercials that they believe pertain to them about other legal issues to do their due diligence. They should not immediately pick up the phone and dial the number they see in a TV ad.

Veterans, especially, should not sign a retainer with an attorney unless they understand what they’re signing.

Call the local veterans service commission for assistance or contact a reputable local lawyer. But above all, do your homework before signing anything.

editorial@tribtoday.com

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