Meet CCK’s Kerry Baker! Kerry handles veterans’ cases before the VA and the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims (the Court) and is a leader in the field of toxic military exposures, like Agent Orange, burn pits, and Gulf War Illness.
Robert: Hi, this is Robert Chisholm from Chisholm Chisholm & Kilpatrick, and with me is one of our employees Kerry Baker and we’re gonna meet Kerry Baker today.
Robert: So Kerry, tell me where you grew up.
Kerry: I grew up in Princeton, Kentucky.
Robert: After you graduated from high school you immediately went into the Marines, if I understand correctly.
Kerry: I was on the Yellow Footprints of Parris Island one week exactly after graduating high school.
Robert: What did you do in the Marines?
Kerry: I was a helicopter crew chief on CH-46 helicopters for the most part.
Robert: So what does that mean helicopter crew chief for uninitiated?
Kerry: Alright, so the CH-46 helicopters are crew served aircraft helicopter, meaning it requires a couple of pilots plus crew. As the crew chief, I’m responsible for most things that don’t involve flying the helicopter. The roles could change between missions obviously, but I’m always flying as crew chief in the helicopter when it is flying. I perform the maintenance on it. I do the flight test on it, so I’m really responsible for all the upkeep of the aircraft, plus the mission-oriented items that—it could range from any number of things.
Robert: Did you get stationed overseas at all during your time in the service?
Kerry: I was stationed all over the world for the most part, primarily my home bases were on the west coast initially, then on the east coast and then in Japan, but I deployed from those places most of the time so I was probably deployed more than I was back at the home bases.
Robert: So tell us, were you deployed to any combat zones?
Kerry: I was deployed to the Persian Gulf War, Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm. I was deployed to Somalia, prior to all that I was at Panama for a little bit, so those are my, I guess you could say combat deployments.
Robert: Could you share a story about someone you had to help off the Somali– when you went to Somalia. Wasn’t there a special guest that was requested to leave?
Kerry: Oh yes, as I recall it was one of the Hepburn sisters. I don’t remember which– I, she was there in a humanitarian role, and we evacuated her before, I guess you could say the hostilities—
Robert:— really commenced.
Robert: Okay. So, what years were you in service?
Kerry: I was in service from 1987 to 1998, so approximately 11 years.
Robert: After you were discharged from the service, you reached out and wanted to help veterans as I recall.
Kerry: That is correct.
Robert: So, where did you do that initially?
Kerry: Well, I initially started in Louisville, Kentucky. In the course of my own personal dealings with VA, I ran into somebody with the Disabled American Veterans that had sort of an interesting relationship with me, somebody that unbeknownst to me at that time, that I, that was probably one of the folks that I flew out of a combat zone in the Gulf War. He was working for the DAV, and once I saw what he did for a living–
Robert: Wait, this gentleman, you actually rescued? Is that what you are saying?
Kerry: He and I assumed that it must have been me based on the timing of where he was injured and where I was flying med evacs from.
Kerry: But, you know, he was a national service officer for the Disabled American Veterans, and at the time, I was medically discharged from the military so I couldn’t—my flying days were over. So I wasn’t sure at that point in time what I wanted to do with the rest of my life because there were points that it looked somewhat bleak and as soon I saw what he did for a living, my mind was made up. It instantly was clear to me what I wanted to do, I wanted to do what he did, so I applied for a position through their headquarters.
Robert: For DAV?
Kerry: For DAV, and they accepted me. I went to school at the University of Colorado, and the DAV’s training academy, and it’s been nonstop since.
Robert: Okay, so how long did you work for the DAV?
Kerry: For about 11 years.
Robert: Okay, and over the course of that 11 years, tell us some of the different locations you were stationed at?
Kerry: Well, I started in Louisville. I became the assistant supervisor in that office eventually and then I believe it was 2001 or somewhere around there, I went to the New Orleans office and I was a supervisor at that office for a while, then went to Milwaukee as a supervisor, and then in 2005, I went to DC to join DAV’s judicial appeals team, where we represented cases at the court, so that was, at that point, that was probably the highlight of my career, and then my last position with DAV was the Assistant National Legislative Director on their national headquarters staff.
Robert: Then you had an opportunity to go work for the VA internally.
Kerry: I did.
Robert: So what did you do for the VA?
Kerry: I was the chief of legislative and policy staff in VA’s central office for compensation service.
Robert: So the central office is located in Washington, D.C.?
Kerry: That’s correct.
Robert: Okay, and what did you do in that role in general terms?
Kerry: We were– my staff was sort of the driver for most policy evolution in compensation service regarding compensation claims, be it Agent Orange-related policy, other types of policy, but also on the legislative side, it was probably the primary focus of that staff, so we would write up the VBA’s legislative proposals that pertain to compensation service. We would respond to legislative pieces coming from the hill, whether we agreed with them, didn’t agree with them, why. We would– everything, anything from a legislative perspective was on our staff’s plate.
Robert: So, when you’re working for the VA in that role, what you’re really doing is setting policy for the whole county, correct? In essence?
Kerry: Yes, that role did encompass quite a bit of that.
Robert: Okay, and so after you left the VA, you decided to join Chisholm Chisholm & Kilpatrick. Can you tell us what you’ve been doing for the law firm?
Kerry: Well, I’ve– it’s been 5 years now, and I handle a lot of cases at the agency level. I’ve done a few at the court, a lot at the Board of Veterans’ Appeals. I handle a lot of specialized cases such as exposure-related cases, trying to, I guess, educate all the firm’s personnel on the complications and the intricacies of exposure-related claims. There’s probably a wide range of things that I do for you.
Robert: Let me ask this question because one of the things I love about being a representative of veterans is the change that happens when you get—you help a veteran receive what they’ve been fighting for for years. Some of our clients really reach out to us and tell us what a life-changing experience it’s been for them. Tell me about a case like that that comes to mind for you. Without divulging any names obviously because there are certain privacy things, but just give us a general situation that might be typical of what happens.
Kerry: You know there’s probably hundreds that I can say that about. I’ll go back to when I first started with the firm, one of the first cases I guess you can say, they’re all kind of memorable, but this one was memorable because this particular veteran had been homeless his entire life since the military.
Robert: Since he was discharged?
Kerry: Since he was discharged. Severe psychiatric disabilities that pretty much kept him homeless. VA had denied his claim of service connection for those disabilities for years. So I think the case, it was at least a decade old when we had it, and so it took numerous trips to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals. They just dug their heels in and kept fighting the case, didn’t want to grant service connection. The evidence was very strong through, obviously I’m probably biased, but very good litigation practices and not giving up, we were able to obtain his benefits at the 100% rate going all the way back to his claim that was pending for more than a decade, and so for the first time in his life, he was able to get a home and was never, and probably still not homeless to this day. So it’s good wins like that are worth every bit of what we do here.
Robert: It takes a lot of persistence and not giving up.
Kerry: Incredible amount of not giving up. We, I think our oldest case right now is 20 years old, I think you’re aware of. So in the course of not giving up, we’re talking years of working on a case in some situations, so that really means not giving up despite what VA may do with the case.
Robert: Well Kerry, thank you for sharing your story with us. This is Robert Chisholm and Kerry Baker of Chisholm Chisholm & Kilpatrick.