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Oct. 10, 2013 Volume 35, No. 8

Veterans Clinic to open at School of Law in January

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Angela Drake, director of the School of Law’s Veterans Clinic, said at the Oct. 3 announcement in Hulston Hall that many veterans are initially denied health benefits and need legal assistance to appeal the ruling. Photo by Nicholas Benner.

Law school has several programs offering students real-world experience

The Missouri School of Law will launch in January a free Veterans Clinic to help veterans seeking disability benefits in appellate court. The clinic will be staffed by six law students and directed by law school Professor Angela Drake, Dean Gary Myers said Oct. 3 at the announcement in Hulston Hall.

The Veterans Clinic is “a public service to those who have served this country,” Myers said. At the same time, law students will receive “skills training,” he said — valuable real-world law experience for which law offices are asking.

Drake, whose father was an Army major killed in the Vietnam War, said it typically takes years for Veteran Affairs to decide benefit claims. And when the VA denies claims, “they are wrong 60 percent of the time,” Drake said. “Fortunately there are appellate processes veterans can go through.” 

The clinic will help veterans who were denied VA benefits to federally appeal their case to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals and the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans’ Claims in Washington, D.C., Drake said. At this first level of appeal, 73 percent of denials are reversed, according to a study by the Widener University School of Law Veterans Clinic. 

Initially, the Veterans Clinic will work on cases from the Veterans Pro Bono Consortium in Washington, D.C., and from referrals from service organization representatives.The clinic will handle a niche, undeserved in mid-Missouri, that provide services not offered by Mid-Missouri Legal Services and the Boone County Veterans Court, Drake said.

Student input was important in the clinic’s creation. In fall 2012, MU law students Larry Lambert and Scott Apking met with Myers over lunch to discuss the idea. A proponent of  real-world law experience for students, Myers was on board immediately. He was also aware of similar veterans benefits clinics at Yale Law School, the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law and Widener University School of Law.

The clinic will be run like a law firm, Myers said. Students will interview clients, witnesses and medical personnel; research and develop cases, draft pleadings and prepare briefs; obtain medical records; and interact with other practitioners in the area of federal veterans law.

Besides the Veterans Clinic, the Missouri School of Law has five other programs in which students receive real-world law experience.