Upcoming Whittier summer legal clinic to focus on veterans issues

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For the men and women of America’s armed forces, returning home from active duty can mean fighting battles of a different sort. Many veterans live on low incomes and find themselves in transitional or emergency housing. They often face legal barriers to receiving benefits and gaining employment. The number of veterans who struggle to re-enter civilian life is staggering. In Los Angeles and Orange Counties combined there are an estimated 500,000 veterans, approximately 4,000 of whom are homeless.

A new legal clinic at Whittier Law School will tackle these issues. The Veterans Legal Clinic, to be held summer 2017, will allow law students to hone their legal skills while providing free, quality representation to veterans in administrative proceedings. Students will work directly with veterans on needs such as discharge upgrades, disability compensation appeals in the Department of Veterans Affairs system, and other substantive legal matters.

The Veterans Legal Clinic will be taught by adjunct professor Dwight Stirling and guest lecturer Bryan Fazio. Stirling is a reserve judge advocate in the California Army National Guard and the CEO and co-founder of Veterans Legal Institute (VLI), a Santa Ana-based organization that provides pro bono legal assistance to homeless, at risk, disabled and low income current and former service members. Fazio is a Navy veteran, a Whittier Law School graduate, the president of the Whittier Law School Veteran Law Society, and a staff member at Veterans Legal Institute.

Stirling and Fazio will teach veterans-related issues and provide students with a foundation in administrative law, outlining the framework for handling matters in both the VA and Department of Defense systems. The clinic will combine lecture and roundtable discussions with case updates in which students describe their cases, strategies, legal issues, and client-related matters, while receiving advice and guidance from the instructors.

The work of Stirling’s VLI is providing a template for next summer’s clinic. Several Whittier students have worked at the institute as interns, doing everything from writing demand letters and drafting motions to researching legal memoranda. One of those serving at VLI, Allison Higley, is a Whittier Law School graduate and Equal Justice Works AmeriCorps fellow. She’s conducting her fellowship with VLI.

“The chance to teach civilians like myself about the challenges our service members and veterans face is critical, a responsibility I take seriously,” Higley said in November 2016 OC Lawyer article about the institute’s intern program. “Vets sacrifice so much for us; assisting them with their legal needs is the least we civilians can do.”

Read the complete OC Lawyer article about the Veterans Legal Institute intern program here.

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