Making a Difference in Veterans’ Lives

GW students are hard at work providing basic legal assistance to veterans, thanks to three new partnerships established by the Pro Bono Program. The collaborations—set up to meet the increased needs of veterans returning home from combat and service—give students hands-on legal experience while making a real difference in the lives of veterans.

The first collaboration is with the Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA), a congressionally chartered veterans service organization founded in 1946 that advocates for veterans who have experienced spinal cord injury or dysfunction. PVA’s National Appeals Office represents clients before the Board of Veterans’ Appeals on matters pertaining to a wide range of benefits, including disability compensation, pension, education, and ancillary benefits. Clients include veterans of all conflicts and eras. Alan B. Morrison, Lerner Family Associate Dean for Public Interest and Public Service Law, helped to develop a project through which GW Law students offer research and writing support, review clients’ claims folders, develop issues, and prepare arguments for submission to the board under the supervision of PVA attorneys. 

The second new opportunity is with the Washington, D.C., Department of Veterans Affairs Community Resource and Referral Center (CRRC), which opened in 2012. The CRRC, which assists veterans and their family members, offers facilities supporting a wide variety of family needs, as well as a full-service kitchen for job training and private conference rooms for use by various service providers. The center expressed an interest in having classes taught there in landlord and tenant law. Two 3L students—Simon Chun and Conner Prochaska—have taken the lead under the supervision of David M. Johnson, assistant dean for pro bono and advocacy programs, to develop the curriculum to teach the courses beginning this fall.

In the third pro bono partnership, the law school will collaborate with global IP firm Finnegan, Henderson, Farabow, Garrett & Dunner LLP and its Veterans’ Pro Bono Program, headed by counsel Ronald Smith. The program assists disabled veterans appealing decisions that denied their claims for benefits, typically involving issues such as the extent to which a veteran is determined to be disabled and whether a claimed disability is service connected. John M. Whealan, associate dean for intellectual property law studies, was instrumental in creating the Finnegan project.

GW Law students are assigned to work with the Finnegan attorney leading a given case. Usually, the first step is to draft a memo, which forms the basis for discussion at a briefing conference. The conference is conducted by an attorney from the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims (CAVC)’s central legal staff and is attended by counsel for both parties. Approximately 75 percent of Finnegan’s appeals are resolved at this briefing conference. In some cases, the court has oral argument. Students may be permitted to participate in argument, under the supervision of the Finnegan attorney, pursuant to special rules of the CAVC.