June 15, 2015

Conference to focus on legal issues veterans face

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- A conference at Southern Illinois University Carbondale will focus on issues facing military veterans who live in rural areas and provide training for attorneys dealing with veterans’ benefits claims. 

The conference, “Access to Justice for Rural Veterans – Policy, Law and Health Care,” is from 8:50 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., June 26, at the SIU School of Law. The free event is open to the public; the sessions that begin at 11:30 a.m. are geared toward attorneys in assisting veterans with VA claims. The Paul Simon Public Policy Institute, SIU School of Law, and the SIU School of Medicine Center for Rural Health and Social Service Development are among the event sponsors.

Media Advisory

Reporters, photographers and news crews are welcome to attend any of the sessions.  To schedule a specific presenter for an interview, contact Delio Calzolari, associate director, Paul Simon Public Policy Institute, at 618/453-4009, or Alicia Ruiz, the law school’s director of communication and outreach, at 618/453-8700.

A recent statewide public opinion poll by the institute showed differences between rural and urban Illinoisans’ opinions to challenges that veterans face, Delio Calzolari, institute associate director, said. 

“One of the hopes of the conference is to draw attention to these rural-urban differences, explore further why they exist and begin conversations about how public policy, or public and private collaborations can help better situate all veterans in the state,” Calzolari said. He is a former U.S. Navy lieutenant and reservist who was an officer-in-charge of an explosive ordinance disposal unit area search detachment. 

Presenters include Christopher W. Behan, associate law school dean and associate professor. Behan came to the law school in 2006 after serving on active duty for nearly 11 years with the U.S. Army Judge Advocate General’s Corps. Other presenters are: Brian Clauss, executive director of the John Marshall Law School Veterans Legal Support Center and Clinic; Richard Kulich, veterans justice outreach coordinator with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, and Edward Farmer, a staff attorney with the Marshall law school veterans legal support center and clinic. 

Due to meal considerations, guests should register no later than June 24. Registration and conference information are at paulsimoninstitute.siu.edu/vetcon/; registration is also available by contacting Barb Smith at the SIU School of Law at 618/453-3258. 

Calzolari said he has come in contact with several veterans who struggle with barriers to physical and mental health services, employment and housing. The issues often are compounded in rural areas due to fewer public and non-profit services and transportation. 

“If those who have served can have easier access to the legal system to efficiently remove  barriers to health care, employment, and housing, not only have we helped our nation keep its obligation to servicemen and women but we are integrating many highly trained, highly trainable, and effective workers back into our workforce,” he said. 

Behan said the law school is working toward establishing a full-fledged veterans clinic with a staff attorney, administrative support and law students working together “to help meet the needs of veterans in Southern Illinois.” The law school and the John Marshall Law School have entered into an agreement to work together on a “Veterans Access to Justice Program” that will provide services to veterans in both urban and rural settings. 

While the schools have applied for grants and funding to support the initiative, Behan said beginning this summer, SIU School of Law’s Self-Help Legal Clinic will begin screening calls from veterans in need of legal assistance and refer them to a network of local attorneys willing to provide pro bono assistance. Behan said Joseph Cervantez, an assistant state’s attorney in Williamson County, and Nolan Wright, assistant professor and Self-Help Legal Clinic director, are spearheading the effort. 

Under the leadership of the late John Lynn, a retired major in the U.S. Marine Corps and assistant dean, the law school did have a veterans legal assistance program from 2007 to 2010. The program went on hiatus when Lynn unexpectedly died in 2010, Behan said. Lynn helped write the first “Military Service and Law” handbook published by the Illinois Institute for Continuing Legal Education.

Five hours of continuing legal education credits are available at the conference. The sessions can also assist in accreditation applications for claims attorneys to practice law before the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.