Posted on Penn State News
December 6, 2017
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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The Penn State Law Veterans and Servicemembers Legal Clinic has won several disability and back pay awards for veterans since its inception nearly four years ago, all while providing students hands-on experience with administrative law, pretrial litigation and appellate advocacy skills.
One of the clinic’s most recent and substantial victories was on behalf of Lehigh County veteran Allen Blose, who applied many years ago for benefits from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs stemming from his service as a “volunteer” for chemical warfare testing. Blose was injected with four different toxins, including the nerve agent VX. Just a few drops of VX rubbed on the face of a North Korean in an airport incident in 2017 was fatal.
From 1965 to 1975, the U.S. Army, CIA and VA conducted chemical warfare testing at the Army’s Edgewood Arsenal facility located in the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland. The government exposed soldiers to chemicals to test the short-term effects without regard to the long-term health consequences. Blose was 24 years old when he was exposed to the nerve agent.
Clinic students worked closely on Blose’s case with Tom Applebach, director of Lehigh County’s Office of Veterans Affairs. His expertise and close relationship with the VA’s regional office, combined with the students’ scientific knowledge and work with an expert, helped Blose to receive a 100 percent disability rating with back pay for 23 years. A VA “rating” reflects the severity of a veteran’s disability and determines the amount of monthly compensation a veteran receives for service-related conditions.
Serving those who served their country
Third-year Penn State Law student Tiffany Kernen worked on Blose’s claim for more than a year. The payoff for her in terms of experience was as huge as her client’s victory. Kernen interviewed Blose multiple times, attended a hearing with him, and examined many VA decisions looking for errors to appeal, and she was the first person to notice VX was given to Blose. The effects of VX have caused a series of medical issues for the veteran.
Kernen had help from fellow third-year students Ashley Clasen and Kyle Russell, who gathered scientific evidence from a successful class-action lawsuit filed by Edgewood victims against the government. Clasen and Kernen asked Jack Vanden Heuvel, professor of molecular toxicology at Penn State, for help with understanding the scientific evidence and medical expert testimony. The clinic then hired its own expert, Dr. Robert S. Brown Jr., using donations from other veterans. Brown showed the connection between the VX injection and Blose’s ocular toxoplasmosis, a parasitic eye infection, and other conditions. Brown found that the VX produced immunosuppression and central nervous system damage.