This article originally appeared in the February 2017 issue of Carolina Law. Jessica Marsden, Equal Justice Works fellow who is supervising the project in the UNC School of Law Clinical Programs, meets with a client.
this year, some North Carolina military veterans will have a new option for
legal services related to disability compensation and discharge upgrade
Law launched its Veterans Legal Assistance Project in January to meet civil needs related
to military service. The project will build on pro bono services that students in
Carolina Law’s Veterans Advocacy Legal Organization (VALOR) have provided with wills
and other needs.
group, veterans in North Carolina, like veterans nationwide, struggle with serious
unmet legal needs,” says Jessica Marsden, an Equal Justice Works fellow who is
supervising the project. “And UNC law students have been eager for a veterans’ clinic.
There is a lot of enthusiasm about providing legal services to folks who have served
veterans’ initiative will offer students “hands-on legal experience with more complex
cases in a highly supervised setting,” Marsden says.
project will broaden access to legal services for low-income veterans,
particularly those whose discharge status prevents them from receiving veterans’
benefits or finding civilian employment.
with other-than-honorable discharges — as well as bad conduct and dishonorable
discharges — are generally ineligible for most Veterans Affairs benefits, including
disability compensation for service-connected disabilities,” Marsden says. “A
less-than-fully-honorable discharge can also be stigmatizing.”
Employers can find
out the nature of a veteran’s discharge, and an other-than honorable discharge
can be an obstacle to landing work.
Carolina Law will
mainly represent veterans who want discharge upgrades through the military boards,
part of the Department of Defense.
“If a veteran is
successful, the discharge upgrade process can be used to change both the
character of service and the narrative reason for discharge,” Marsden says.
For veterans whose
discharge upgrade applications are successful, law students will help file
benefits applications. Veterans with other legal needs may benefit from the
resources of other UNC Law clinics, including the Civil Legal Assistance Clinic
and the Consumer Financial Transactions Clinic.
In addition to
helping veterans, the project will give law students invaluable experience
working with clients, gathering evidence, and preparing briefs and other
documents as they represent clients before federal administrative agencies.
“Students may also
appear in person before military boards if their clients have the opportunity
for a personal hearing. This type of hands-on experience is one of the best ways
for law students to develop skills they will need when they graduate and go on
to legal practice,” Marsden says.
Marsden is getting
referrals from lawyers and organizations that serve veterans, screening prospective
clients and gathering records connected with claims. She will do more outreach
at veteran’s centers in Greensboro and Fayetteville.
-February 1, 2017