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Veterans Advocacy Project Fall 2019 Updates

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Sturm College of Law

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Veterans Advocacy Project Secures Discharge Upgrade for Vietnam Marine, Purple Heart Recipient

50 years after serving in Vietnam, one of the Veterans Advocacy Project’s (VAP) clients, “Bill,” received Veterans Affairs (VA) disability compensation benefits for the injuries he received in the country.  Students in the VAP worked with both the Department of Defense, to have his discharge status changed to Honorable, and the VA to secure disability compensation benefits for Bill. Each year, about 7,000 service members receive a less than honorable discharge – a discharge status which prevents them from accessing the services and benefits they earned by serving their country.  Bill is just one of the many clients with a less than honorable discharge represented by students in the VAP.

alice hansen
Alice Hansen, 3L, advocated on “Bill’s” behalf in a hearing at the Denver Regional Office of the VA.

Many of the VAP’s clients suffer from mental health disabilities, in particular, PTSD and TBI, often referred to as the signature wounds of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Students in the VAP learn about mental health challenges from our partner, the Sturm Center at the University of Denver Graduate School of Professional Psychology. VAP students identify clients in need of Sturm Center services, and then graduate students at the Sturm Center provide evidence-based, personalized and culturally competent services to VAP clients. Those services help VAP students in their work before the Department of Defense discharge review boards and the VA. Students learn how to work with non-lawyers in gathering and building the evidence they need. And, more importantly, students gain a deep understanding of how their work can impact the lives of their clients, far beyond addressing their legal needs.

In the past few months, six VAP clients received a change in their discharge status. Most of them received significant disability compensation benefits as a result of the discharge status change, and are now entitled to VA health care, a vital benefit for Veterans suffering from mental health disabilities.