By Aaron Burton and Troy Moyer
The Veterans Advocacy Project (VAP) of the University of Denver Sturm College of Law opened its doors on August 17. Denver Law students work with attorneys in the community to help veterans navigate the Veterans Administration and its appeal processes, which are quite complex. The VAP focuses on VA disability compensation claims and discharge upgrades. About 23% of veterans receive an “other than honorable discharge.” The discharge status directly affects the veteran’s right to receive VA benefits — health and pension, as well as education.
Almost immediately after opening its doors, the VAP enjoyed a consistently high volume of both walk-ins and referrals. The VAP also partners with the Colorado Bar Association’s Military and Veterans’ Affairs Section to screen veterans’ cases and refer cases not dealing with disability compensation or discharge upgrades to attorneys in the community who can help them. The VAP is co-located with the Volunteers of America (VOA) in the new Bill Daniels Veteran Services Center near downtown Denver. This center is conveniently located for the neediest of Denver’s veterans. The VOA has representatives in the building who work with veterans to offer emergency housing, counseling and vocational resources.
Involvement with the VAP is a great way to give back to the veteran community, explore a new and growing legal niche and meet the ABA’s and Colorado’s recommended 50 hours of pro bono legal service. Attorneys working with Denver Law students in the VAP must be VA accredited, which requires completing an application and attending a three-hour training session. The CBA provides a CLE that satisfies the training requirement. Interested attorneys should contact Denver Law Professor Ann Vessels, the Director of the VAP, at 303-871-6238 or send an email to VAP@law.du.edu.
In addition to representing veterans before the VA, there are other legal services that lawyers can provide to veterans. For example, lawyers can help draft or update a will. The military often requires service members to draft a will prior to a deployment, but many veterans fail to update that will after they are discharged from service. This is especially true for aging Korean and Vietnam War veterans who may not have updated their wills for many decades. Unfortunately, due to the unique and extraordinary challenges of military life, it is not uncommon for a veteran’s familial and legal affairs to change drastically, even during the course of one deployment.
The VAP is very interested in working with lawyers in the community. Timothy Franklin and Michael Shea, Denver Law Adjunct Professors in the VAP, are fluent in VA benefits law and are prepared to help less experienced attorneys in their work with students in the VAP. Helping veterans with their legal issues is a great way to serve those who have given so much to all of us.
Aaron Burton enlisted in the U.S. Army from 2009 to 2013, receiving an honorable discharge as an E-5 sergeant. He later chose to attend law school at the University of Denver and hopes to practice in Colorado after passing the bar in February 2017. Aaron can be reached at email@example.com.