Connect with us

Courts

Advocates, veterans sue to speed benefits for ‘Blue Water’ vets

Eddie Burkhalter

Published

on

Advocates for “blue water” veterans filed a federal lawsuit last week demanding action on the expansion of disability benefits that the government has said must wait until next year. 

Navy veterans who sailed off the coast of Vietnam who have for decades awaited benefits due to Agent Orange exposure will have to wait until at least January 2020, unless the court intervenes. 

“I’m so sad to report that my hubby passed away last Sunday morning from complications of Parkinson’s,” wrote the widow of a “blue water” veteran on the Blue Water Association’s Facebook page on July 31. “Every day he would ask me for an update on his appeal. My heart is breaking that he never got to see his claim resolved after waiting 13 years. Don’t give up… keeping fighting!”

A new law signed by President Donald Trump in June allows for presumptive benefits for an estimated 90,000 Navy veterans, sometimes call “blue water” vets,  who served on ships not less than 12 miles off the coast of Vietnam during the war. The VA estimates the benefits change will cost $1.1 billion over 10 years, according to the Military Times. 

Previously, the Agent Orange Act of 1991 allowed veterans exposed to Agent Orange to receive disability compensation, but in 2002, the VA limited that benefit coverage to only those who served on the ground in Vietnam or in inland waterways.  

“Blue water” veterans, as those who served on ships off the coast of Vietnam are often called, and their advocates had argued that despite their proximity to the land they still drank and cooked with the distilled seawater, swam and cleaned ships and aircraft with  the water, which was contaminated with the cancer-causing Agent Orange and other carcinogens. 

The U.S. Department of Justice in June decided not to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court a previous ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in the Alfred Procopio v. Robert Wilkie case that extended benefits to ‘blue water’ vets. 

Public Service Announcement


The Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2019 that was signed into law on June 25 allows blue water vets to apply for health and disability benefits, but the law also allowed the VA to delay payouts until January 2020. 

That delay is needlessly putting veterans long overdue for care and compensation at risk, according to those veterans and their advocates. 

John Wells, retired Navy commander and director of the nonprofit Military Veterans Advocacy, is also the attorney representing plaintiffs in the suit against VA Secretary Robert Wilkie, filed July 22. Wells was also the attorney for the plaintiff’s in the previous case, Alfred Procopio v. Robert Wilkie, who are joined once more as plaintiffs in the new suit.  

Advertisement

The lawsuit filed last week asks that the court vacate the VA’s stay and begin processing claims without delay. 

“The VA must abide by the ruling in Procopio and not delay claims,” the lawsuit states.  

“Our hope is now to get an oral argument by early October,” Wells said by phone from Washington D.C. on Tuesday. 

Wells said the nonprofit Military Veterans Advocacy asked Congress to amend the law prior to its passage to address some of their concerns, but that the request fell on deaf ears. 

“So now we’re up here saying ‘We told you so,’” Wells said of his visit to the Capital to discuss the matter with lawmakers. 

Wells was joined on that trip to Washington D.C. on Tuesday by Mike Yates, head of the Blue Water Navy Association, who spent two years on the USS Bainbridge off the coast of Vietnam and is being treated for prostate cancer and hypertension. Both of those diseases are considered to be linked to Agent Orange exposure. 

“I agree 100 percent,” Yates said, speaking by phone from the Capital about concerns shared by Wells. 

Yates said that he’s hopeful they’ll win in court once again, but that even if they do the VA could reissue a stay and delay processing those benefits “just to get back at everybody.” 

“And that’s a possibility,” Wells said. 

To qualify for benefits ‘Blue water’ veterans must have one of the diseases associated with Agent Orange exposure, which under federal regulations include: AL amyloidosis; Chloracne or similar acneform disease; Chronic B-cell leukemias; Diabetes mellitus Type 2; Hodgkin lymphoma, formerly known as Hodgkin’s disease; Ischemic heart disease; Multiple myeloma; and Non-Hodgkin lymphoma, formerly known as Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. 

Other diseases included are: Parkinson’s disease; Peripheral neuropathy (early-onset); Porphyria cutanea tarda; Prostate cancer; Respiratory cancers — lung, bronchus, larynx or trachea; and soft-tissue sarcoma other than osteosarcoma, chondrosarcoma, Kaposi’s sarcoma or mesothelioma.

Veterans and their loved ones can visit the VA’s blue water vets page here for more information on how to apply for benefits, or call the VA’s toll-free number at 800-827-1000.

Click here to see the lawsuit filed July 22.

 

Eddie Burkhalter is a reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or reach him via Twitter.

Advertisement

Courts

U.S. Attorney Jay Town announces resignation

Eddie Burkhalter

Published

on

U.S. Attorney Jay Town announced his resignation Friday. (WHNT)

Jay Town, the U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Alabama, on Friday announced his resignation and plans to work at a Huntsville defense contractor and cybersecurity solutions company. 

Town’s resignation will be effective Wednesday, July 15, according to a press release. 

“After much thoughtful prayer and great personal consideration, I have made the decision to resign as the United States Attorney of the Northern District of Alabama.  I have tendered my resignation to Attorney General William Barr. General Barr expressed his gratitude for my service to the Department of Justice and to the Northern District and, despite having hoped I would continue in my role, understood and respected my decision,” Town said in a statement. 

“I am extremely grateful to President Trump, to whom I also tendered a letter, for his special trust and confidence in me to serve as the U.S. Attorney. It was an honor to be a part of this Administration with an unrivaled class of United States Attorneys from around the nation.  I will forever remain thankful to those who supported my nomination and my tenure as the U.S. Attorney,” Town continued.

Town said his job with the unnamed Huntsville defense contractor and cybersecurity solutions company is to begin later this year, and the company is to announce his position “in a few weeks.” 

“The Attorney General of the United States will announce my replacement in the coming days or weeks,” Town said in the release.  

Town has served in his position since confirmation by the U.S. Senate in August 2017. Prior to that appointment, Town was a prosecutor in the Madison County District Attorney’s office from 2005 until 2017.

Public Service Announcement


Attorney General William Barr in a statement Friday offered gratitude for Town’s three years of service. 

“Jay’s leadership in his District has been immense.  His contributions to the Department of Justice have been extensive, especially his work on the China Initiative and most recently as a Working Group Chair on the President’s Commission on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice. I appreciate his service to our nation and to the Justice Department, and I wish him the very best,” Barr said in a statement.

The U.S. Justice Department in April 2019 notified Gov. Kay Ivey that the department’s lengthy investigation into the state’s prisons for men found systemic problems of violence, sexual assaults, drugs and corruption which are likely violations of the inmates’ Constitutional protections from cruel and unusual punishment. 

Advertisement

Town’s office leads the discussions between the U.S Department of Justice and the state on the prison conditions. 

Problems with violence, deaths and drugs in Alabama’s overcrowded, understaffed prisons have not markedly improved in the year’s since the U.S. Department of Justice released its report.

Continue Reading

Courts

Under cloak of secrecy, dark money nonprofit targets Birmingham law firm

From the beginning, Forbes’s “BanBalch.com” website set out to tarnish the law firm by claiming to expose “unsettling controversies surrounding Balch & Bingham,” much of which stems from allegations, inference and speculation.

Bill Britt

Published

on

A mosaic of headlines from Forbes's website, which attack the Birmingham law firm Balch & Bingham.

A California-based, dark money organization has set up shop in Alabama. It appears the move has substantially improved the group’s financial outlook and altered its core mission.

Because of the group’s federally protected status, it is impossible for the public to know who is pouring cash into Consejo de Latinos Unidos — translated as United Latinos Council — but a state tax lien and its CEO’s website may offer a peek at what might be hiding behind the nonprofit’s dark-money veil of secrecy.

Founded in 2001, and originally headquartered in Los Angeles, CDLU’s stated mission, according to reports was to “foster, encourage and develop educational opportunities and programs in Latino communities.”

Leaving its Latino-centric advocacy roots, the current website says the group’s “primary mission is helping to provide urgent and life-saving medical care for those in need with nowhere else to turn.”

Although it relocated to Birmingham sometime between 2013 and 2014, CDLU has never registered with the Alabama Secretary of State’s Office — and its board of directors is still located in California and elsewhere.

In 2017, it appears CDLU once again found an added purpose for its activities far from its previously stated missions.

CDLU’s CEO, Kevin Brendan Forbes, who goes by his initials “K.B.” launched a website in 2017, on which he targets Birmingham-based law firm Balch & Bingham.

Public Service Announcement


Mother Jones characterizes Forbes as a “self-styled ‘child of the Reagan revolution,’ [who] grew up in a mixed household in a Los Angeles suburb.” Forbes also worked for far right-wing commentator and one time Republican presidential hopeful Pat Buchanan, as well as media-mogul and former Republican presidential contender Steve Forbes. (The men are not related.)

Why a leader of a nonprofit would devote daily energy to attacking a law firm is not entirely clear, but it seems to have begun with what Forbes refers to as the “Newsome Conspiracy Case,” which involves an extended court battle between Burt Newsome, a Birmingham attorney, and Balch & Bingham.

Not only did CDLU’s focus change when Forbes became close to Newsome, the organization’s fortunes began to improve, as well.

Advertisement

Forbes is considered the driving force behind the group’s ventures in Alabama. He is also personal friends with Newsome. Facebook posts show both Newsome and Forbes’ wives enjoying social events on multiple occasions.

There is a direct friendship between the wives of Forbes and Newsome. They have been friends since at least 2016 and posts show a number of public interactions since then.

Forbes reserved the website “BanBalch.com” shortly after the Newsome and Forbes families formed a friendship, and the website’s first articles were aimed squarely at Newsome’s lawsuit with Balch & Bingham.

From the beginning, the website set out to tarnish the law firm by claiming to expose “unsettling controversies surrounding Balch & Bingham,” much of which stems from allegations, inference and speculation.

Under the banner of his nonprofit, Forbes has also taken further steps to attack the firm’s largest clients.

Forbes has taken credit for costing Balch & Bingham hundreds of thousands of dollars in client fees while also remaining fixated on the firm, writing Newsome a check to settle the disputed lawsuit with CDLU as mediator.

Why would CDLU offer itself as a mediator in a private lawsuit especially given the fact that Forbes is not an attorney?

From a ragtag blog to a more sophisticated web presence, BanBalch.com has expanded its coverage to include those associated with Balch & Bingham.

Veteran politicos who asked not to be directly quoted in this article to avoid being dragged into Forbes’ intrigues suggest that those with other darker motives could use the site for a broader political agenda. These insiders question whether political operatives are now feeding Forbes opposition research and money to do their bidding.

As a federally sanctioned nonprofit, CDLU must complete an annual tax filing.

Federal Form 990, the annual statement that must be filed by all IRS recognized nonprofit organizations, shows that in the past five years, annual gross income of CDLU averaged $7,030. The last 990 filed for the year 2018 shows CDLU finishing the year with a $12,363 deficit, and all the 990s filed by CDLU for the past decade show the nonprofit has never paid anyone a salary.

While the 990 for 2019 is not due until November of this year, a tax lien from the state of Alabama filed on January 3, 2020, suggests that in the first three months of 2019, CDLU paid someone or some number of people between $186,000 to more than $500,000. The lien for $11,671.73 was for unpaid withholding tax to the state of Alabama — including up to a 25 percent penalty.

Depending on the number of people paid and the amount each person was paid, this lien represents a minimum of $186,000 in compensation paid and a maximum possibility of more than $580,000.

As a 501(C)(3), Forbes’ organization is not required under federal law to publicly disclose donors. As a charitable organization, it is barred from engaging in political activity or supporting political candidates, and while most “dark money” groups are 501(C)(4)s for this reason, (C)(3)s operate with similar opacity in regard to their funding sources, though many publicly disclose their donors in the interest of transparency.

501(C)(3)s are also required to remain true to their founding purpose unless they notify the IRS in advance of the change in purpose.

An organization with a long history of little income and zero salaries appears from the lien documents to have paid more in compensation in the first four months of 2019, than it had collected in gross income for more than five years. Where did the money come from and what was CDLU doing to attract this kind of investor?

In his writings, Forbes has made it clear that paying Newsome would make the attacks on Balch & Bingham and the firm’s clients go away.

Excerpts from an article Forbes has posted at least twice summarize the central focus of his efforts:

So, we ask, would it not have been cheaper to simply resolve the Newsome Conspiracy Case for $3 million? If Balch & Bingham had simply reached out to us, the CDLU, and tried to resolve the Newsome Conspiracy Case in early 2017, this blog would not exist and our advocacy efforts at the CDLU would not be focused on educating the public, law enforcement, legislators, corporate leadership, and institutional investors on Wall Street about Balch & Bingham's alleged unsavory if not criminal conduct. When Newsome originally wanted to settle this matter, back in 2015, his legal team asked for three things: An apology. The end of the tracking of Newsome's banking cases by Balch partners. $150,000 for revenue lost from the alleged defamation. Balch rejected the offer and now that decision has cost them millions and millions more to come.

Forbes’s words would seem to indicate that he set out to harm Balch & Bingham to force them to pay Newsome.

Is Forbes attacking the firm’s clients to coerce a payment to Newsome? Did someone pay CDLU hundreds of thousands of dollars in 2019, as is indicated by the tax lien. Did Forbes pay his friend Newsome all or any of this money? Where did the money come from and who did Forbes pay?

Nonprofit organizations like CDLU do not have to reveal their donors. But during 2019, Forbes’ attacks on Balch & Bingham’s clients took on a wide-ranging field of subjects.

Politicos, who spoke with APR, posed the following questions: Did someone recognize that Forbes had created a communication channel through which they could accomplish goals that had nothing to do with Burt Newsome? Was a rival law firm paying Forbes to attack Balch to steal Balch’s clients? Could environmental groups or their supporters be paying Forbes to attack utility companies? Were Washington-based lobbying firms paying Forbes to bolster their efforts to take Balch’s national lobbying contracts?

The answer to these questions would easily be resolved if Forbes revealed who was paying him.

Forbes has indicated in writing that “this blog would not exist” if someone would just write Newsome a very large check.

Forbes has attacked clients of Balch & Bingham and told the clients the attacks would go away if they forced Balch to settle with Newsome, according to APR‘s sources.

A veteran of hundreds of legal skirmishes who, like others, asked not to be quoted because of Forbes’ propensity to write unfounded accusations, said Forbes’ actions in his opinion rose to extortion and tortious interference with business relationships.

Forbes has never fully explained why his nonprofit moved from California to Alabama, nor why CDLU’s mission changed from Latino advocacy in Los Angeles to attacking a Birmingham law firm and its client.

When social media hoaxes and fake news are trade craft, there is a ready market for blogs like BanBalch.com, insiders believe.

The question that may need answering by law-enforcement is what is going on at CDLU that would allow them to operate Banbalch.com under a cloak of federally sanctioned secrecy?

Continue Reading

Courts

Supreme Court sides with Alabama in COVID-19 voting case

Brandon Moseley

Published

on

The U.S. Supreme Court in a 5-4 decision Thursday blocked a federal district judge’s order that would have made it easier for many Alabamians to vote during the pandemic, issuing an emergency stay of the lower court’s injunction in People First of Alabama v. Merrill.

The court’s more liberal justices dissented, while the five conservative justices voted to strike down the lower court ruling, which had blocked absentee ballot witness requirements in a few Alabama counties and a statewide ban on curbside voting programs.

The decision to grant the stay means that Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill’s ban on curbside voting remains in place, and he may intervene into any county in Alabama to prevent curbside voting.

Voters in every county in the state must still follow all the required witness, notary and photo ID requirements for absentee ballots.

Federal District Judge Abdul Kallon had found in favor of the plaintiffs and issued an order allowing local officials to implement curbside voting. Merrill and the secretary of state’s office appealed the lower court ruling to the Supreme Court, who issued the emergency stay.

The court could still hear Alabama’s appeal, but the ruling was a blow for the groups representing the plaintiffs in the case. Caren Short is the senior staff attorney for the Southern Poverty Law Center.

“While we are deeply disappointed with today’s ruling, we look forward to presenting our clients’ case at trial later this summer,” said Short. “Our goal is simple though unfortunately at odds with Alabama officials. We want to ensure that during the COVID-19 pandemic, Alabama voters will not be forced to choose between exercising their fundamental right to vote and protecting their health or the health of a loved one.”

Public Service Announcement


Deuel Ross is the senior counsel at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

“We are deeply disappointed by the Supreme Court‘s stay,” said Ross. “Unfortunately, this means that Alabama voters who are at greater risk of severe illness or death from COVID-19 will be required to risk their health and violate CDC recommendations in order to vote on July 14. This is occurring at a time when COVID-19 infections are soaring in Alabama and nationwide. Nonetheless, the litigation will continue and we intend to seek relief for our clients and other voters in time for November.”

Plaintiffs argued that making voters go to the polls and wait in line to show a photo-ID would be a bar to voting given the fear of the coronavirus in Alabama. Voters will have to decide whether voting in the July 14 party runoff elections is really worth the risk of possibly contracting the novel strain of the coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, and possibly dying.

Advertisement

At least 14 Alabamians died from COVID-19 on Thursday, taking the state death toll to 961. Additionally, 1,162 Alabamians tested positive for the coronavirus.

The state argues that voter ID and other security measures are necessary to protect the integrity of the vote and prevent voting fraud. Since his election as Alabama secretary of state, Merrill has said that it is his goal to “make it easy to vote and hard to cheat.”

Continue Reading

Courts

Lawsuit claims governor ignored nomination process to appoint probate judge

Micah Danney

Published

on

James "Jim" Naftel II

A lawsuit filed Wednesday is challenging Gov. Kay Ivey’s appointment of Birmingham attorney James “Jim” Naftel II as Jefferson County probate judge place 1.

The suit, filed the day Ivey announced the appointment, alleges she circumvented the Jefferson County Judicial Commission’s nominating process. She should have selected an appointee from a list of three nominees provided by the commission as the state’s Constitution requires, the suit says.

“Because Judge Naftel was not lawfully or properly appointed as Probate Judge of Jefferson County, he is currently usurping, intruding, and unlawfully holding that office,” the suit alleges.

Ivey’s office said she disagrees with the suit’s interpretation of the law. 

“The state constitution gives the governor the authority to fill this vacancy,” said Gina Maiola, Ivey’s press secretary. “Judge Naftel is highly qualified to serve as probate judge, and the governor looks forward to his many years of excellent public service to the people of Jefferson County and the state as a whole.”

Barry Ragsdale, an attorney with the firm Sirote & Permutt, P.C., said that he has no issue with who Ivey chose, only how she did it.

“I frankly have nothing but respect for Judge Naftel,” Ragsdale said. “I think he’ll make a great probate judge. I think he’s going to end up being the probate judge, but it’s about protecting a process that we’ve had in Jefferson County for 70 years.”

Public Service Announcement


Jefferson County was the first of six counties to create such a commission. It originally applied only to Jefferson County Circuit Court, but that was expanded in 1973 to include any judicial office, the suit says — including probate judges. 

Ragsdale said it is important because the process is meant to provide local input into whom potential judges are. Commissioners are local citizens who likely know the people they nominate, whereas a governor probably doesn’t. 

“That takes most of the politics out of it,” Ragsdale said. He noted that before the first commission was created in 1950, George Wallace appointed his relatives to the bench when vacancies opened. A local screening process prevents that, Ragsdale said.

Advertisement

“We have that, we fought for it, and we fought governors for decades to follow the process,” he said.

Ragsdale believes this is a case of a governor simply wanting to exercise power, he said.

“She’s absolutely wrong about what the law says, and we intend to prove that,” Ragsdale said.

Continue Reading
Advertisement

Authors

Advertisement

The V Podcast