January 13, 2009

Veterans’ issues focus of teleconference from Iraq

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- The Southern Illinois University School of Law next week will participate in a teleconference from Iraq that focuses on issues that soon-to-be returning veterans will face.

The law school’s Veteran’s Legal Assistance Program is coordinating with the John Marshall Law School and the U.S. Army to receive a live broadcast from U.S. Army Capt. Lyndsey Kimber in Balad, Iraq. John F. Lynn, the law school’s assistant dean for administration, said Kimber will discuss issues she is seeing in Iraq that returning troops will bring home with them when they return. Because many of these troops are with National Guard and reserve units and not returning to a military base structure, civilian attorneys will be dealing with these issues, Lynn said.

Participants will be able to e-mail questions to Kimber, Lynn said.

In July, the law school established a program to assist veterans with disability claims appeals. The program, similar to John Marshall Law School’s Veteran’s Legal Support Center and Clinic, is expanding its role to include other veterans-related issues.

Kimber is an international law officer and trial counsel with the U.S. Army’s 34th Combat Aviation Brigade in Balad. Her insights are “invaluable in preparing the foundation for veterans’ legal support when the Illinois National Guard’s 33rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team returns” later this year, Lynn said.

The broadcast is 1 to 2 p.m., Friday, Jan. 23, (10 p.m. in Balad, Iraq) in the Hiram H. Lesar Law Building, Room 104. Due to space considerations, anyone interested in attending should contact Lynn at 618/453-8760.

The conference will give program case managers, students and staff a glimpse into what they can likely expect in six to eight months when the infantry brigade rotates, Lynn said. Current issues include divorce, creditor issues and disability benefits, he said.

“This puts a touch of reality to it,” he said. “You are able to see a real person other than just dealing with files. For our students it’s a great opportunity to talk with a JAG (Judge Advocate General) live in Balad.”

Discussing what military officials are now seeing assists the program’s ability to meet expected demands, Lynn said.

“If we can reach out to Balad, Iraq, and talk about issues we will see in six months it only builds on our future,” he said.

Since its inception in July, the law school’s veteran’s legal assistance program has handled 45 cases, including 16 to 18 active cases, Lynn said. Two of the resolved cases benefited veterans approximately $500,000 in respective service-connected disability claims involving emergency medical treatment.

In one case, the Veterans’ Administration has agreed to pick up $375,000 in one veteran’s medical bills, and accepted on appeal a previously denied $124,500 claim.

There are now four paid student workers, and the program has a licensed nurse to assist in interpreting medical records, Lynn said.

“The program is real strong,” he said. “We have very good faculty support.”

SIUC’s program received a $100,000 grant from the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs last summer to initiate the program. Second- and third-year law students provide pro bono legal services to veterans who cannot afford or do not have access to legal representation in appealing service-connected disability claims. Lynn is currently working to obtain program funding for next year.

The programs at the law school and John Marshall Law School are the only law school legal assistance programs in the United States available to veterans that focus solely on disability claims, Lynn said.

The Veterans Cash Lottery, a $2 scratch-off lottery game started by the Illinois Lottery in February 2006, funds the program. One hundred percent of the proceeds go to support Illinois veterans through the Illinois Veterans’ Assistance Trust Fund.