Alternatives to VSOs are cropping up. There’s Yale Veterans Legal Services Clinic in Connecticut. Now New Yorkers are stepping up.
“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.” (LINK)
The need in the area is great. They write “With one of the country’s largest military bases, Ft. Drum, a reserve unit from every military branch in Onondaga County, and the Syracuse VA Medical Center directly next-door, Syracuse Law is uniquely positioned to establish New York State’s first comprehensive Veterans Legal Clinic.”
The Veterans Legal Clinic of Syracuse University College of Law is designed for those who can’t afford an attorney. Transportation to appointments are free too.
The Clinic will benefit our veterans and community by assisting with VA claims, representing clients in VA Claim appeals, and helping veterans in upgrading discharges.
The student attorneys work pro bono and earn college credits and professional experience.
Syracuse also offers practicing attorneys a free six-hour Clinical Legal Education (CLE) qualification in return for helping one veteran with a legal matter pro bono. CLE Topics covered include:
- VA benefits
- Discharge Upgrades
- Service Members Civil Relief Act (SCRA)
- Uniformd Service Employment and Reemployment Rights Act
- Veterans in the Criminal Justice System
College legal programs under the direction of qualified attorneys are good for veterans because it’s not clear if there are any educational qualifications for VSOs prior to taking VA qualifying VSO classes. The BVA has over 500 attorney’s (plus new hires) helping judges deal with claims.
The VA has published a fact sheet (2/15) with information about free legal help at VA facilities (LINK) that may be useful but there is little consistency in what services are offered nationwide.
A 2015 list of pro bono veterans’ legal services is here (LINK). I’m not aware of a way to assess their success rate since non-VSOs seem to be lumped into the “other” category by the BVA. If the various legal clinics were broken out as a class we could see how they are doing with their representation at the BVA.