January 27, 2015 Articles

Yale Law School Veterans Clinic Advocates for Marginalized Veteran Populations

The work of the clinic has brought veterans' rights out of the shadows in Connecticut.

By Michael Wishnie

Yale Law School launched a new clinic in 2010 to address the needs of an underserved and often stigmatized population—Connecticut’s military veterans, some 250,000 individuals, many of whom face significant obstacles in securing Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) benefits, obtaining discharge upgrades and other record corrections, and addressing a range of civil rights needs. Yale’s program is one of a handful of veterans’ clinics now operating in the nation and the first one at any law school in New England.

Since its inception, the Veterans Legal Services Clinic has focused on the most marginalized veteran populations, including women, veterans of color, immigrant and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) veterans, and recently returned veterans. In addition to assisting individual veterans, all clinic students represent one or more veterans’ organizations in legislative, regulatory, public education, strategic planning, or other non-litigation matters.

The clinic enables students to represent veterans and their organizations in a wide variety of litigation and non-litigation matters related to their military service or return to civilian life. Some veterans have acute legal needs, but legal services offices and law firm pro bono programs have not traditionally handled matters such as VA benefits cases and discharge upgrades.

The clinic seminar enrolls both law students and psychiatric fellows from the Law & Psychiatry Division of the Yale School of Medicine’s Psychiatry Department, allowing students to engage in interdisciplinary work with mental health professionals, while learning new areas of law.

Interest in the clinic among students was immediate. “I was motivated to sign up for the clinic after hearing stories from my husband’s friends about the unique problems facing armed services personnel,” said Kate Cahoy, a 2012 graduate. Cahoy’s husband was an officer in the Army. Brian Czarnecki (’16), a former Army officer, was drawn to the clinic because of his military experience. Matt Blumenthal (’15), a former Marine, joined the clinic because “it meant pushing our citizenry and government to live up to their ideals. As a veteran myself, I was excited to serve people who in many cases had sacrificed far more than I ever did.” Ginny McCalmont (’15) was moved and motivated by the stories of the clinic’s clients. “Not only are their stories a constant reminder of why I came to law school—to make the law work for people who are vulnerable or marginalized—their stories make me want to work harder and learn more every day so that I can better advocate for them.”

Clinic students have worked on a range of cases and issues, representing veterans’ organizations and individuals. Some of the clinic’s areas of concentration are below:

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