UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – The Penn State Law in University Park Veterans and Servicemembers Legal Clinic (Clinic) hosted the Pennsylvania Bar Association’s Military and Veterans Affairs Committee (Committee) on Friday, March 31, 2023. Members of the Committee visited Penn State Law as one of the Committee’s “meeting field trips.” During the visit, the Clinic and Committee had the opportunity to hear from Clinic clients about their Veterans Affair claim experience, and Clinic students explained the aspects of a Board of Veteran Appeals hearing to the Committee. Additionally, the visit allowed students the opportunity to observe the Committee’s meeting and network with the Committee members.
The meeting opened with moving testimony from past clients of the Clinic. These clients spoke about how the Clinic assisted them in filing a claim for their Vietnam veteran father who was diagnosed and subsequently passed away from leukemia. Through the collaborative work of the Clinic and the client, service connection for the veteran’s leukemia and exposure to herbicides during his service in Vietnam was awarded with a rating of 100%.
Steve Todd, chair of the Committee, said, “The Clinic provides a tremendous service to veterans and its success is driven by enthusiasm of both the students and Professor Vollmer.”
Next, second-year law student Samantha Tropp, and joint-degree graduating law student Jessica Warwick, both enrolled in the Clinic this semester, demonstrated a mock Board of Veteran Appeals hearing to the Committee. The mock hearing was based on the fictional facts of a deceased Vietnam veteran’s wife’s appeal to receive benefits due to the connection between the veteran’s exposure to herbicides in Vietnam and a later diagnosis of leukemia.
Warwick shared, “The meeting facilitated a conversation between the Committee and Clinic about hardships currently facing veterans in our community and how we, as veteran advocates, can do more to address these issues. As a student, it was incredibly helpful to hear about other issues facing veterans outside the scope of the Clinic. It further motivated me to want to continue veterans' work into my career after graduation.”
David Trevaskis, Pro Bono Coordinator for the Pennsylvania Bar’s Pro Bono Program, and member of the Committee added, “I was incredibly impressed by the good work of the Clinic, by the powerful testimony of the past clients of the program and by the professionalism of the students in the mock hearing demonstration we watched.”
The Clinic has worked closely with the Pennsylvania Bar Association’s Pro Bono Program for years by answering questions submitted to the program by veterans needing legal assistance, and by sending students to one-day “pop-up” legal aid events, at VA Medical Centers in Altoona and Lebanon, and Wills for Heroes events in Centre County and surrounding areas. Clinic Director Michele Vollmer has also assisted the Committee to create Continuing Legal Education (CLE) programming on veterans law to train more lawyers in Pennsylvania in how to assist veterans with VA disability claims.
At the end of the meeting, Todd bestowed upon Vollmer one of the Committee’s challenge coins. A challenge coin is a small medallion that represents comradery or unity. It is given to individuals to honor their actions or work. Vollmer, who is also the associate dean of clinics and experiential learning, and clinical professor of law, has dedicated her time over the past nine years to helping veterans through the VA benefit claim process (including disability, education and pension claims), and guiding students on how to do the same.