Veterans Advocacy Clinic
The Veterans Advocacy Clinic emerged after a decade of independent pro bono work for veterans by Professor Hillary Wandler. She began representing veterans on their VA claims and appeals in 2006, after her father faced difficulty with the VA. In 2009, Wandler accepted a teaching position at the Alexander Blewett III School of Law, and continued her work, as students began to work alongside her as an external clinic placement. In 2017, the Veterans Advocacy Clinic was established as an in-house clinic at the School. The Clinic serves a dual purpose: to serve low-income veterans in need of legal services for VA claims or appeals or DoD discharge upgrades; and to give students hands-on experience practicing law in a complex setting. To these ends, students handle veterans’ cases under the supervision of Prof. Wandler.
Through legal representation, legal consultation, and outreach, the Veterans Advocacy Clinic will account for long-term impacts of military service on disabled or improperly discharged Montana veterans. By holding systems that are designed to support veterans accountable, the VAC ensures appropriate income support for disabled veterans and their families, ensures adequate and competent healthcare to veterans recovering from physical and mental trauma, and ensures that a veteran has knowledge and control over his or her personal military history.
Beginning in June 2022, the VAC has a full caseload and a full waitlist. We will be working to get our intake form back online as we make progress assisting the veterans in our current docket. If you are a veteran in need of legal assistance, and our intake form is not yet online, we recommend searching the VA’s database of accredited representatives in your area, https://benefits.va.gov/vso/index.asp. If you are in need of legal assistance for a civil legal issue, also consider visiting the Montana Legal Services Association’s website, https://www.mtlsa.org/.
Clinic Director: Professor Hillary Wandler
Prerequisite: Professional Responsibility
Areas of Emphasis: Administrative law setting involving VA claims for service-connected disability benefits, VA claims for increased disability rating, applications for discharge upgrade, and consultation with practitioners on various legal issues for veterans. Sample projects include:
- Develop an original claim for service-connected disability compensation
- Develop a claim for increased disability rating
- Research and write an appellate brief to the Board of Veterans Appeals
- Conduct a hearing before the VA Regional Office Decision Review Officer or Board of Veterans Appeals administrative law judge
- Prepare a veteran for a hearing before the VA Regional Office or Board of Veterans Appeals
Research, investigate, and write an application for discharge upgrade
- Write a letter advising a veteran on the chances of success in a disability claim
The Veterans Advocacy Clinic provides pro bono legal advocacy to veterans and their families in rural and urban communities across Montana. The clinic prioritizes claims that will provide veterans and their families with sustaining income. Through the clinic, students will also learn veterans disability law, the law of discharge upgrade, and the procedural issues arising in both settings. Thus, students will learn to provide excellent advocacy in complex administrative systems like the VA, which will prepare them to serve veterans and other clients in practice.