In 2015, 214,941 veteran claims have become backlogged through the VA. Veterans can wait almost two years before receiving any disability compensation. In fact, an abundance of legal problems is the second highest reason for veteran suicide at 35 percent, following behind relationship problems at 59 percent.
In the service, military members have the opportunity to consult with the Judge Advocate General Corps for legal advice. However, as service members transition into the civilian world, there is an unavailability of free legal advice and services.
“When a veteran is assisted by an attorney when applying for benefits or upgrading their military discharge the impact can be incredible,” said Tom Caruso, the co-founder of the Veterans Legal Clinic at Syracuse University. “Studies have shown that there is a 144 percent increase in compensation on VA claims and the veterans can have a VA decision in just a few weeks.”
Syracuse University’s College of Law started a Veterans Legal Clinic in January 2015 that trains students to fill a void between veteran legal issues and a lack of service-knowledgeable lawyers. It’s the first and only legal clinic in New York that provides free legal help to veterans during the application process for benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), to appeal VA decisions and to upgrade military discharges.
The College of Law also operates eight additional legal clinics that offer legal help in a number of areas including family law, bankruptcy, criminal defense, disability law, elder law, tax law and consumer law. More information about those clinics can be found here.
Student commit a minimum of 20 hours per week to the clinic for a semester and receive credit for their participation.
Syracuse University Alumni, Tom Caruso and Josh Keefe, created the Veterans Legal Clinic. As first year law students, Caruso and Keefe founded the student group VISION (Veterans Issues, Support Initiative and Outreach Network) and also created Valor Day where Central New York veterans can obtain a range of free professional services.
“Syracuse University has a long history of educating veterans and the College of Law continues that tradition by providing necessary legal help in navigating what can be complex issues within VA claims,” said Hannah Arterian, Dean of the Syracuse College of Law.
The program offers free legal services to veterans, with no-cost transportation and appointments with student lawyers at the College of Law provided. The veteran clinic is open every weekday. It is part of the Office of Clinical Legal Education which has nine free legal clinics for people who cannot afford legal help on their own.
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