NORTH HAVEN — Law students at Quinnipiac University are gaining real-world experience by providing veterans with legal help.
Quinnipiac’s law clinic for veterans allows professionals to assist students with real cases and real clients, with a real benefit. Veterans from any branch of the military are able to come into the clinic, now in its second year.
Darren Pruslow, Quinnipiac adjunct law professor, works at Connecticut Veterans Legal Center in West Haven, the country’s first Veterans Administration medical-legal partnership. Attorneys assist veterans with civil legal issues who may be in recovery, homeless or have mental health issues.
Clients usually come by referral from within VA system. CVLC serves hundreds of clients, and the Quinnipiac sees a small sampling, Pruslow said.
Veterans seek assistance for “a variety of different things” that are non-criminal matters, Pruslow said, including finding housing, obtaining benefits like health care or dealing with a bad paper discharge.
When a veteran leaves the military, there are different levels of discharge, from honorable to levels below that.
Many veterans who have seen combat have mental health issues as result, Pruslow said, got in trouble
and were forced out of the military. Left with bad discharge, those veterans can’t access health care through the VA.
Pruslow said one case this semester involves a veteran who served in Kosovo and developed post traumatic stress disorder from the distress of flying in the aircrafts and seeing combat. The client was discharged with an other-than-honorable discharge and although his health issue is related to service, he’s not eligible for treatment from the VA.
“It’s not uncommon,” Pruslow said. “A majority of veterans discharge without any problems,” he added, “but we’re trying to guarantee services form here forward.”
Third-year Quinnipiac law student Alan Simpkins started with the clinic this semester, and his military experience helps him help others.
As a disabled Navy veteran, Simpkins said working in the clinic is an “opportunity to do something for the community.”
“I get to understand how VA cases are handled,” he said.
Simpkins received an honorable discharge but still had to deal with VA bureaucracy, he said, which helps him in his work to recharacterize bad discharge cases.
He said his work in the clinic gives him “the fulfillment of seeing someone else get help, and being able to get some knowledge into veterans affairs.”
Veterans seeking help locally can reach out to the Connecticut Veterans Legal Center, at 203-794-4291 or online at www.ctveteranslegal.org.