June 17, 2009

State veterans agency plans satellite office

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- With assistance from Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s Veterans’ Legal Assistance Program, the Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs will open a satellite office on campus next month.

Adding the agency’s services is a benefit to students, the local community and law students, said John F. Lynn, director of the legal assistance program and assistant dean for administration with the SIU School of Law.

“It’s a natural extension to partner with them,” he said. “It’s taken a long time to work to this. The Veterans’ Affairs department handles initial claims and we handle the appellate work. With this partnership there can be a natural handoff.”

Earl M. White, supervisor of the Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs’ Southern Division, said adding the satellite office is another of Gov. Pat Quinn and IDVA Director Daniel W. Grant’s continuing efforts to extend outreach programs where there is a significant number of veterans. The agency assists veterans in filing initial claims for state and federal benefits.

Media Advisory

For more information on the Veterans’ Legal Assistance Program at the SIU School of Law, contact director John F. Lynn at 618/453-8760. For more information on Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs services, contact IDVA Southern Division Supervisor Earl M.White at 618/367-3064.

White said he anticipates a vast majority of veterans who visit the satellite office will be students, but that services are available to all veterans who may be eligible for state and federal benefits. Those include an array of compensation, educational, employment and real estate benefits to veterans and their families.

“Anything that we can perceive they have a need for that they have earned the right to get, we file for that,” he said.

Last July, the law school established the legal assistance program to help veterans with disability claims appeals. 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 program will continue to focus on assisting veterans with disability claim appeals, but “what we can offer out of the same office conveniently to students, area veterans and their families is the whole array of services,” Lynn said.

Service officer Bud Belville, who regularly works out of the state regional office building in Marion, will be on campus the first and third Tuesdays of each month, beginning July 21, White said.

Office hours will be 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. in Kaplan Hall, room 201, which is across from the Hiram H. Lesar Law Building. After about a three-month trial period, Lynn anticipates the Veterans’ Affairs office will be open weekly due to demand. The campus program and the satellite office will share a common telephone number (618/536-8323) and fax number (618/536-8461).

Adding an office on campus will reduce travel costs and transportation issues for some veterans, and allow for face-to-face interviews with the service officer, White said. The agency has several full-time offices in the region, including Murphysboro, Marion, Benton, Harrisburg and Mount Vernon. Area satellite offices include Anna, Cairo and Chester.

The legal assistance program and IDVA services are not parallel programs, White said.

“There is a real symbiotic relationship,” he said. “It is a one-stop shop.”

The relationship will benefit law students who assist veterans in disability claim appeals, Lynn said.

“This will open the door for a lot of great training for our students with IDVA officers,” he said. “They have some very good structured training through their service officers we want our students to get involved in. It’s a way to tie in some of the work we have done with Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve with employer issues, and it’s a way for them to hand off veterans who have legal issues.”

Since its inception, the law school program accepted 63 cases and has about 20 active cases. Two of the resolved cases resulted in a total of $1 million in service-connected disability claims involving emergency medical treatment received by veterans. Another case involved reinstatement of a World War II veteran’s non-service connected pension, Lynn said.

Lynn expects to have another 20 new cases this fall. Thirty law school students worked as case managers last year, and 20 returning students expressed interest for this year. There will be a recruiting drive when law school students return to classes in August, Lynn said.

Lynn said he expects to hear later this month from IDVA officials about funding for the upcoming year, and he has “high expectations” the program will again receive funds. 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 support Illinois veterans through the Illinois Veterans’ Assistance Trust Fund.