As published by MSN
Recognizing its work to assist veterans navigate the Veterans Administration (VA) claims process, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois awarded The John Marshall Law School Veterans Legal Support Center & Clinic (VLSC) its Excellence in Public Service Award on May 25. Nominated by the magistrate judges of the Northern District of Illinois, Judge Geraldine Soat Brown presented the award to the VLSC, stressing the importance of the relationship the court has developed with the VLSC.
“The magistrate judges have seen the results of the clinic’s work: veterans who appeared before us initially in very bad shape return a few months later looking much better, dealing with substance abuse problems, and feeling less frustrated and angry as they find help,” Brown stated. “The VLSC, in turn, has used the connections made though the court’s Petty Offense Committee to develop a better relationship with the staff and social workers at the VA hospitals to help each veteran get the support he or she needs.”
Prior to the VLSC’s involvement, the court’s magistrate judges had recognized consistent patterns of concern with the veterans who appeared in court. As the judges were evaluating how to best address these problems, then VLSC Director Joseph Butler contacted the court offering to help. Together they developed a plan where VLSC staff attorneys and students would attend each monthly petty offense call to identify veterans in need of help. If a veteran agreed to work with the VLSC, their case would be deferred, and if the veteran could show they successfully worked with the VLSC, the original ticket would be dismissed. In the six years since this plan was created, the VLSC students and staff have never missed a petty offense call, even when the law school was not in session.
In addition to continuing its work with the court, the VLSC, under the guidance of Executive Director Brian Clauss, provides veterans with free legal services and resources, including assistance with health care and mental health benefits, family law issues, housing matters, and employment and education issues.
Recently, the VLSC secured four new grants to expand its work fighting for the legal rights of veterans to those in rural communities with limited access to legal help. Partnering with Southern Illinois University’s School of Law, the new Urban/Rural Initiative will provide legal services to veterans who reside in southern Illinois’s rural communities and to the more than 375,000 veterans who reside in the urban northeastern area of the state of Illinois. Illinois has a total veteran population of 721,575.
“There’s a tremendous need in Southern Illinois for these types of services,” Clauss said. “They simply do not have access to the same resources a veteran in Chicago has.”
The grants will also support the VLSC’s efforts in the Veterans Court Project where the VLSC provides services to veterans who have pending narcotics felony charges.