School of Law exterior

August 03, 2021

SIU law school’s Veterans Legal Assistance Program receives funding

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. — Military veterans in the region needing help with Veterans Affairs benefit appeals and discharge upgrades can continue to look to Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s School of Law for assistance.

The law school’s Veterans Legal Assistance Program Clinic recently received a $30,000 grant from the Illinois Equal Justice Foundation to continue with the Illinois Armed Forces Legal Aid Network (IL-AFLAN). Launched in late 2017, IL-AFLAN was the first statewide hotline and network of legal support services for Illinois veterans, active duty military, National Guard, reservists and their dependents.

 “The continued funding supports the program and allows us to assist them,” Martin D. Parsons, a clinical assistant professor of law, said. “There are other options but not very many. We have clients who, without us, wouldn’t have won their appeals and wouldn’t receive benefits.”

Busy over five years

The program also allows law school students the opportunity to hone their skills by working on cases in representing clients. Parsons said the clinic has handled more than 200 cases and that more than 50 law students have participated for credit hours in five years. Students participating in the clinic will typically meet with the clients and work on the cases.

“I’ve been really lucky to have some smart, hardworking students who are really passionate about helping people and helping veterans, specifically,” he said. “I like teaching them and seeing that lightbulb come on when they get it.”

Parsons noted many of the students have a connection to veterans and up to one-fourth of those students were veterans themselves.

“A common misconception is that only veterans take my clinic but that’s not necessarily true. I have a lot of non-military students who take it,” he said.

Provides services to veterans throughout Illinois

While SIU’s primary coverage area is a 15-county region in Southern Illinois, Parsons notes clients also come from areas including the Metro East and central Illinois. In addition to handling discharge upgrades and VA benefit appeals, Parsons said the clinic also handles a smattering of family law and consumer-related cases involving veterans when there is a conflict that involves Land of Lincoln Legal Aid. The program is free for veterans, the National Guard and reserve, and active duty personnel but there are some income-eligible guidelines.

Parsons, a 2015 SIU School of Law graduate, served four years active duty in the U.S. Marine Corps and 22 years in the Illinois Army National Guard. The university has a longstanding commitment and history of assisting veterans, active-duty military, reservists and their dependents. 

“As a veteran myself, it’s being able to help my brothers and sisters in arms with their issues,” he said. “I understand them because I am one of them. The quirks and challenges that we share.”

Eligible veterans and service members, their spouses and dependents who are residing or stationed in Illinois and who need assistance should contact the network’s free statewide legal aid hotline at 855-IL-AFLAN (855-452-3526). Offices are open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.