January 23, 2009

SIUC to host ‘Military Service & the Law’ seminar

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- L. Tammy Duckworth, director of the Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs, will present opening remarks next month at a seminar at Southern Illinois University’s School of Law focusing on safeguarding legal protections for military veterans.

“Military Service & the Law,” is set for 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on Feb. 20 in the Hiram H. Lesar Law Building courtroom at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. The seminar is for attorneys interested in providing pro bono legal services to active military personnel, their families or veterans.

The seminar is part of the law school’s Veterans Legal Assistance Program launched in July to assist veterans with disability claims appeals. John F. Lynn, the law school’s assistant dean for administration, said the seminar is a continuing legal education offering for interested attorneys, and an opportunity to have a conference with Duckworth and personnel from the John Marshall Law School’s Veteran’s Legal Support Center and Clinic.

While the law school program continues its focus on disability claims, the conference is a chance to recruit attorneys to handle claims on a variety of other issues affecting veterans outside of disability compensation, Lynn said. The law school’s program receives numerous calls and referrals on handling other legal issues for veterans.

Media Advisory

Reporters and photographers are welcome to cover the conference. To make arrangements for interviews or for more information on the event, contact Alicia Ruiz, the law school’s director of communications and outreach, at 618/453-8700.

The seminar focuses on a variety of issues important not only to servicemen and women and veterans, but their families, employers, and other aspects of society, Lynn said.

John Costello, who is with Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s office, will discuss his “Adopt a Guard Unit” proposal, where attorneys assist local unit members who face general legal issues. The conference will explore the laws of Illinois and surrounding states concerning the Uniformed Services Employment and Re-employment Rights Act, family law issues, and the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act.

The conference will also introduce the new Illinois Institute of Continuing Legal Education handbook, “Military Service & the Law.” Major Gen. William L. Enyart, the adjutant general in Illinois in command of the state’s National Guard, will present the IICLE an award on behalf of the organization’s work for veterans, Lynn said. Enyart and Lynn both graduated from the SIU School of Law in 1979.

Seating is limited and registration, which features a variety of options and costs, is required. For more information or to register, visit https://www.dce.siu.edu/index.php/Conferences/Mililtary-Service-and-the-Law or contact Lynn at 618/453-8760.

Five law schools from around the country are currently set to receive the seminar via Web cast, Lynn said. Among the other participants are the John Marshall School of Law, Hamline University School of Law, and Widener University School of Law.

Since its inception in July, the SIU law school’s veteran’s legal assistance program has received 51 cases, Lynn said. 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. The student volunteers receive no academic credit or pay for their work.

“What we hope to do at the end of the conference is not only solidify training for attorneys, but finalize training for my volunteer student case managers who will all be in attendance,” Lynn said. “This is an opportunity for them to talk with practicing attorneys and network in the area of veteran benefits.”

Lynn also sees the conference as a chance to provide information to attorneys in Kentucky and Missouri who might be interested in expanding a similar program to those states.

Lynn is excited about the program’s progress. The seminar is part of the original plan Lynn submitted when seeking funding from the Illinois Veterans’ Assistance Trust fund. He is also finding an increased interest from local attorneys in assisting in the program.

“The interest in veterans benefits and veterans affairs has increased,” he said. “The whole focus of our program is the legal issues facing veterans. This is a chance to get 60 to 70 folks together who are interested to meet with the experts” in the subject.

“This is a newly emerging field,” he said. “The interest is building and I’m very happy about it and proud of it.”

These kinds of services were not offered to veterans returning home from Vietnam, said Lynn, retired major in the U.S. Marine Corps with more than 20 years military service.

“There was no such thing; they were told, ‘Come home. Hang up your uniform. Forget about it,’ “ Lynn said. “Times have changed and, I believe, for the better.

“I tell students, ‘We’re making a difference. It’s small. It’s incremental. But we are making a difference’,” Lynn said. “We’re not going to solve the problem alone, but we are making a difference.”