Veterans Advocacy Clinic Does Outreach to Rocky Boy Reservation
Pictured (Left to Right): Rebekah Schaefer, Dan Olinger, Prof. Hillary Wandler, Client, Carol Scott, Jensen Lillquist
On September 15-16, Professor Hillary Wandler and two students of the Veterans Advocacy Clinic (VAC), Dan Olinger and Rebekah Schaefer, along with AmeriCorps VISTA placement Jensen Lillquist, drove to Stone Child Tribal College on the Rocky Boy Reservation. Professor Wandler was pleased the VAC could join this trip, which was coordinated by staff from D.C. law firm Bergmann & Moore. Traveling to Rocky Boy offered VAC students a chance to learn from the Bergmann & Moore staff while reaching out to veterans on Rocky Boy about their legal needs. After a presentation by Paul Sullivan of Bergmann & Moore regarding strategies to obtain VA benefits, Professor Wandler and her students met individually with veterans to learn about their experiences in military service and answer questions regarding their VA claims and military discharges. Veterans who met with the VAC reported having a hard time getting VA services on the Reservation; not only is there significant travel time to the closest VA facility, but the VA has yet to grant accreditation to a Tribal Veteran Service Officer for the Reservation, meaning veterans must complete complicated and technical paperwork without assistance and without access to their records. Several of the veterans described feeling forgotten by the VA. Professor Wandler and VAC students listened to each veteran’s story; asked questions about their time before, during, and after service; and gave a preliminary assessment of their case. Students had the opportunity to see veterans advocacy in person, and thereby develop a better understanding of the issues faced by veterans and how to communicate with and assist them. For lawyers working with communities who feel discarded or invisible, face-to-face communication is critical: it shows that lawyers and advocates are truly interested in listening and trying to help. The VAC was proud to be a part of bringing this type of face-to-face attention to veterans in the Rocky Boy community and learn about their substantial service to our country.