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November 07, 2019

SIU law, medical school form unique partnership to help Illinois veterans

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. — Students and faculty from the SIU School of Law and SIU School of Medicine are partners in a unique collaboration designed to streamline and bolster disability claims for Illinois military veterans. 

The Veterans Legal and Medical Partnership (VetLAMP) will provide additional assistance to military veterans statewide who are utilizing the law school’s Veterans’ Legal Assistance Program to help appeal denials of Veterans Affairs disability benefit claims. 

Third- and fourth-year medical school students, in collaboration with faculty, will review medical records for evidence to support service-related disability appeals. If there is a gap in the medical records, medical school faculty volunteers will advise students and, if needed, examine the veterans to complete missing information. 

Will provide better service to veterans 

VetLAMP is believed to be one of the first, if not the first, law/medical school partnerships for veterans. At a Veterans Summit in Mount Vernon sponsored by the SIU System in September, Dr. J. Kevin Dorsey, interim system president and former dean of the medical school, discussed the potential for a partnership with Martin Parsons, a clinical assistant professor and director of the Veterans’ Legal Assistant Program. They saw an opportunity to increase the legal program’s effectiveness by including the medical school and its students. 

Parsons and Carolyn Pointer, an assistant professor of medical humanities at the School of Medicine in Springfield, say they are excited for what the collaboration will mean in assisting veterans and providing an important educational component for students. Before the partnership, Parsons and students in the Veterans’ Legal Assistance Program reviewed medical records and used the internet to help them draw legal conclusions based on medical reports. 

Allowing School of Medicine faculty and students to focus on the medical aspects of a service-related disability appeal can move cases forward more quickly, allow more veterans to be helped and raise the success rate of appeals. 

The addition of the School of Medicine will likely get more physicians and psychiatrists involved for conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder, which tend to be underdiagnosed. Pointer said veterans’ survivors can also benefit if there is a belief a spouse died from a service-related illness that was denied or went undiagnosed. 

VetLAMP will be based at the SIU School of Law in Carbondale.

Media Availability

For more information on the program, contact Martin Parsons at the SIU School of Law at or 618/713-9264 or Carolyn Pointer at the SIU School of Medicine at or 217/545-4391.

Piecing together a ‘complete product’ 

“Ultimately, this is going to be a much better product for the veterans, which then means, I believe, more hope for them in the claims process,” Parsons said. “If we can get a faster, more thorough review of these documents we have a better chance of success.” 

Pointer noted that myriad medical records can be convoluted and arrive from several areas -- the VA, military service records and civilian medical records. Law and medical school students will be able to view confidential client records through a secure file, she said. 

“This is a good way for students to work on team building, see how different medical record systems work and utilize their skills for a patient with real consequences,” said Pointer, whose father served 20 years in the U.S. Navy. She noted that several medical school students are in the military and will be joining the service after medical school. 

Pointer and Parsons both noted that students also will be discussing cases from different perspectives on a professional level, a valuable experience that will serve them well in their future professions.  

Cases from around the state 

Originally started in 2008, the Veterans’ Legal Assistance Program with Parsons and second- and third-year law school students resumed in January 2017. Parsons has five law school students working on veterans’ disability claims. 

While many of the claims originate in Southern Illinois, clients come from throughout Illinois, including Champaign-Urbana, Chicago, Rockford, Springfield and the Metro East area. The program now has a caseload of 50 to 60 VA disability claims. Parsons and Pointer anticipate the collaborative effort could result in more claims. 

Parsons notes the program has enjoyed “decent success” in its short time. Even veterans who are frustrated with the process when their initial claims are denied give the VA the benefit of the doubt, he said. 

“There are elements to a claim. They need documentation and evidence, and some claims are harder than others,” said Parsons, a 26-year veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps and Illinois Army National Guard. 

Medical school students attend orientation this week 

An orientation on Wednesday in Springfield for 25 faculty and about a dozen medical school students provided an overview of the VA claim process, what is required to succeed on a claim, and the students’ important role in this process. A veteran volunteered to let the group use his medical records as part of the training to walk through a review of a claim. 

Parsons anticipates a similar training session will be held soon in Carbondale for law school students and School of Medicine faculty who will be involved. 

Veterans who need help 

Veterans who are in need of help on disability claims or other legal issues should contact the Illinois Armed Forces Legal Aid Network at 855-IL-AFLAN (855-452-3526). IL-AFLAN is the first-ever statewide hotline and network of legal support services for Illinois veterans, active-duty military, National Guard, reservists and their dependents. The statewide hotline acts as a hub, and has attorneys available to provide information and initially discuss cases. If needed, VA disability claim issues are referred to SIU’s VLAP program.

(Steve Sandstrom, public information associate, Office of Marketing and Communications, School of Medicine-Springfield, contributed to this release.)