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March 7, 2014

Students, alumni aid veterans in navigating the law

Access the Law Veterans Clinic celebrates one-year anniversary

This January marked a year of success of Access The Law’s Veterans Clinic that offers free legal advice and assistance to veterans in a range of circumstances. The clinic is among the first of its kind in the country, operated by a small non-profit. Clients come from all across the Southern Willamette Valley for legal advice; the clinic has demonstrated immense value as it continues to expand. altold-300x95

The clinic began in January 2013 to provide free legal assistance and advice regarding criminal and civil cases, divorce, child custody and support, parenting time, landlord-tenant cases, debtor-creditor cases, bankruptcy, and more. The clinic is held on the last Wednesday of every month at 5:00 p.m. at the Veteran Affairs Roseburg Healthcare System’s Behavioral Health Recovery and Reintegration site. All attorneys provide service pro bono.

Access the Law is a nonprofit organization that provides legal services for working and low-income families who may not qualify for legal aid; the Veterans Clinic is part of Access the Law – to provide legal assistance to veterans who may not otherwise have access.

“I often start my day meeting with veterans who have been arrested, " said Susan Harrison, Veteran Affairs social worker and Veteran Justice Outreach Coordinator for Lane County. "We’ve constructed a Win-Win-Win situation: Veterans win when they get the treatment they need; the Courts and Jails win when their actions improve outcomes and reduce recidivism; society as a whole wins when the community is safer and the veteran retains his ability to be an active and productive member of society.”

Bryan Boender '11, Marc Friedman '89, and Harrison founded the Veterans Clinic through Access the Law. Boender is a 2011 Oregon Law grad, veteran, and Tillman scholar; he first noticed the need for veteran-specific legal assistance as a law student. During Boender’s work in public defense he met ATL’s Executive Director Marc Friedman and Harrison – the group began discussion of ways ATL could provide legal services to Oregon’s veterans.

The clinic maintains its commitment to helping veterans by always filling as many slots as there are attorneys. Veterans Affairs promotes the clinic and facility, as well as referring individuals to the clinic itself; the clinic declines participation in cases in which VA is the adversary.

ATL’s Veterans Clinic provides opportunities for alumni and current students to become involved and learn practical skills. The clinic began working with Oregon Law students in May 2013. Oregon Law’s Jane Steckbeck '89, managing director for the Public Law and Policy Program, coordinates law school students who participate in the clinic.

The law students conduct intake and scheduling, which involves calling veterans, gathering basic information, reminding veterans to bring documents, follow up scheduling, and fleshing out what cases are about to give information to attorneys. Student help allows attorneys to focus on more involved and difficult cases. Participation in the clinic provides practice and preparation for students going into practice, especially in public service. The clinic recognizes students as one of the most important resources of the program.

With a year of success underway, the clinic aims to expand student involvement, increase number of students involved, develop responsibilities, and further integrate students into the process. With supervision, the clinic hopes to direct third-year law students to take on clients regarding landlord-tenant cases and wills-trusts cases. ATL’s Veterans Clinic provides invaluable resources to veterans in need. Often, clients are suffering from the latent effects of military service; unique issues range from homelessness, substance abuse, and mental health issues. Often, social issues exacerbate veterans' mental health medical issues.

After the initial establishment of the clinic in 2013, Friedman stated, “ATL looks forward to working with the VA and the veterans in our community. Veterans have served us and we look forward to serving their legal needs. ATL has knowledgeable and experienced attorneys ready and able to assist.” The clinic continues to uphold this commitment to veterans as the clinic progresses and expands.

The VA's Andrew Rosenthal has asked ATL’s Veterans Clinic to develop a model for VA to replicate across the country.

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