With the help of a law firm, a Staten Island mother has received a new memorial flag in honor of her son, an Air Force service member who died in 1994, to replace one that was destroyed in Hurricane Sandy.
The Department of Veterans Affairs has a policy of providing only one flag per deceased service member, but Asoka Kumarihamy already had received a flag from a Veterans of Foreign Wars post. Attorneys at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld and the New York Legal Assistance Group interceded with the veterans affair department to acquire another one.
Kumarihamy's son, Prabash Ulpange, died in a non-combat incident at a California military base while in active service, and the original flag was presented at his funeral. It was lost during Hurricane Sandy, which rendered her home uninhabitable until two weeks ago.
NYLAG referred the matter to Akin Gump as one of several Sandy cases the firm is now working on pro bono. Akin Gump senior counsel Rachel Ehrlich Albanese contacted the VFW through a personal connection in the Army, then worked with the VFW to obtain a new flag despite the one-to-a-family rule.
"I knew there had to be a way around it," Albanese said. "Her personal property was decimated. But of all the things lost and all the things damaged this one was the most meaningful to her." The new flag was presented to Kumarihamy in a special ceremony Feb. 6 at the Blazing Star VFW post on Staten Island.
In addition to taking the pro bono cases, Akin Gump and its staff and attorneys donated nearly $100,000 to storm-related relief organizations.