Right Now | Pedagogy Meets Practice
The letter right on time—and for Wilson Ausmer Jr., that turned out to be a very bad thing. It was 2011, and Ausmer, a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army Reserves, was in Afghanistan, serving his third tour of duty overseas. The decorated soldier had already paid a personal price to serve his country: he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) related to his time on the battlefield, and had incurred a significant foot injury as well.
The letter, mailed to his home in Missouri, contained invaluable information on how he could file an appeal for disability compensation. It also stated that he had to respond within 120 days of receipt.
Ausmer wouldn’t return home for another five months. By the time he read the letter, he’d lost his one chance to appeal his benefits case. The Veterans Benefits Administration wasn’t going to help him—but a trio of Harvard Law School (HLS) students did. Bradley Hinshelwood, J.D. ’14, Juan Arguello, J.D. ’15, and Christopher Melendez, J.D ’15, took up Ausmer’s case, arguing, among other things, that the clock on an appeals claim should start only after a veteran has returned home, rather than when a letter arrives in his or her hometown mailbox.
The student lawyers became involved in Ausmer’s case in 2013, while interning at the HLS Veterans Law and Disability Benefits Clinic, within the school’s WilmerHale Legal Services Center (LSC). Each year since 2012, when the clinic was established in Boston’s Jamaica Plain neighborhood, dozens of students have assisted veterans with legal cases, winning verdicts of local and national importance.