PUBLISHED:March 27, 2008

Duke, UNC law students join forces to help veterans, April 4

March 27, 2008 -- Local veterans seeking disability benefits can soon get help, free of charge, from law students at Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Law student volunteers will hold a clinic at Duke Law School on Friday, April 4, to review veterans’ military and medical documents and assist them in completing their initial disability applications.

Any military veteran who has a disability that he or she believes is the result of military service is eligible to attend the clinic. A law student will work with a licensed North Carolina attorney to evaluate the veteran's claim and assist with preparation of forms for submission to the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Participation in the clinic is by appointment only and space is limited. To schedule an appointment, contact Anne Sherman at (919) 613-7161.

Third-year Duke Law students and military veterans Jade Totman and Chris Dodrill have worked for the past two years to establish the Veteran’s Assistance Project at Duke. They have been assisted by a $10,000 gift from a fellow veteran, Duke Law alumnus Wayne Rich ’67, and training from attorneys Murray C. “Tripp” Greason III and Tim McClain of Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice, as well as Duke Law faculty supervisors Anne Sherman and Carol Spruill.

Totman, a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy and former Army captain who was deployed to Iraq during five years of active service, said he and Dodrill aim to develop a program that would give something back to veterans and share some of their knowledge and experience as veterans.

“We hope to assist vets in receiving, earlier, the benefits they’re entitled to,” he said, noting they can help veterans correct improperly processed claims that lead to delays in receiving benefits. The average processing time for a claim is 125 days in North Carolina.

Veterans often need help pulling together “massive amounts of documentation,” to support their claims, said Dodrill, a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy who served as a lieutenant in the Navy.

“This can be especially tough for people who served in Vietnam and Korea, whose records are now sitting in a warehouse somewhere. We ask our military to sacrifice their lives, bodies and health, and then when they’re done, the system can make it hard for them to get compensated for it. It’s an unfair paradox,” Dodrill said.

“Our hope is that this project will take root with some first- and second-year law students who are interested in carrying these efforts forward, making it an ongoing pro bono program at Duke,” he said. Indeed, second-year law student and Marine Lt. Jacob Warren and first-year student Robert Devine, a former Navy lieutenant, have been active in establishing the program and will be assisting veterans on April 4 — as will Duke and UNC students from non-military backgrounds. Warren will take over leadership of the program at Duke in the next academic year, under the supervision of faculty advisers.

First-year law student Joe Barney, a former Marine corporal and current first lieutenant in the North Carolina Air National Guard, is leading the student volunteers from UNC who will join their Duke counterparts in the clinic.

The April 4 clinic to assist veterans is scheduled to coincide with a statewide legal service day sponsored by the North Carolina Bar Association. The initiative of Bar Association president Janet Ward Black, a 1985 Duke Law graduate, the “4All” service day is aimed at expanding legal services to underserved communities.

Parking for the clinic will be provided at Duke Law School. The school is located at Towerview Road and Science Drive on Duke’s West Campus.