Cecilia Santostefano, Attorney
Syracuse University, J.D., 2018
State University of New York at Albany, B.A. Psychology, 2015
Cecilia was three credits shy of a minor in neuroscience in college, and in law school, her favorite class was about counterterrorism.
She even earned a certificate of advanced study in national security and counterterrorism.
Favorite TV shows
The Great British Baking Show, Friends, and The Office
Trying new restaurants. Spending time with her three tabby cats (and trying to make them all get along).
“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” (Soren Kierkegaard)
Although she doesn’t use her national security knowledge now, one could argue her neuroscience background is helpful as a veterans benefits attorney. She is always looking for evidence that connects a veteran’s medical diagnosis to military service.
“I love that every case is unique. You never see the same thing twice,” she said. “Even if the facts look really similar, the VA has a lot of latitude in their decisions, and that means we get a lot of latitude and creativity in terms of arguments we make.”
Cecilia worked at a veterans legal clinic during law school then practiced VA benefits law at two other law firms before joining Woods and Woods in 2021.
She said the clients are why she keeps practicing veterans law.
“When you’re interacting with a client you understand that they’re beyond their disability, that this is a real person. This is somebody whose life is difficult right now because of what happened to them however many years ago.”
She said veterans law is similar to public interest law.
“You’re putting someone else’s needs first, and you’re trying to get them benefits,” she said. “It’s changing a life.”
Advice from the attorney
Cecilia says service records are important in making a benefits claim.
“A lot of times we get veterans who are really hesitant during service to report that they had an injury because they didn’t want to be looked down upon,” she said. “In-service records–especially for a service connection claim–really make the case a lot stronger.”
She says medical records after service are just as important because good cases rely on documents and supportive evidence, such as buddy statements from friends and family.
“If they’re not getting treated or they’re not telling anybody about what they’re going through, that makes the case really hard because there’s a gap that you have to fill. The longer the gap gets the harder it is.”