SAN FRANCISCO – On Nov. 3, Golden Gate University School of Law hosted its fourth annual Veterans Law Conference, with the theme Reintegration and Homecoming: Welcoming Warriors and Saluting Service.
In the fall of 2014, GGU Law Dean Rachel Van Cleave founded the school’s Veterans Legal Advocacy Clinic which “aims to give every law student the opportunity to help meet the legal needs of our nation's returning service men and women, and to support our veterans' successful transition to civilian life,” GGU Professor Daniel Devoy told the Northern California Record. “In doing so, the VLAC offers students specialized courses in veteran law and access to various veteran service organizations.”
The Veterans Law Conference is an offshoot of the Veterans Legal Advocacy Clinic, in which students and faculty provide pro bono legal services to veterans in need, particularly in the areas of health care and injuries resulting from military service.
The problems faced by returning veterans are often exacerbated by the minimal preparation and information they are given about health care, benefits, and strategies for reintegration into civilian life. As a result, many veterans are ill-equipped or not equipped at all to reintegrate, address their own service-related needs, or care for their families.
However, as evidenced by the Veterans Law Conference and its continued success, awareness of veterans’ issues and willingness to come to their aid are on the rise among legal professionals in Northern California.
The conference was attended by 50 people, including veterans of various members of the military, legal professionals (some veterans themselves), and GGU students and faculty members, and primarily focused on how veterans can and should be reintegrated into life as a civilian. The legal professionals in attendance discussed ways to strategically approach the employment of veterans, their mental health, family life, and even potential discrimination after returning home.
Mental and physical health were among the most-discussed topics at the conference.
“A representative from the [Department of Veterans Affairs], Mr. Keith Armstrong, participated in the panel and spoke about mental health and the impact it has on the legal and family needs of veterans,” said Devoy. “Due to mental health injuries, many veterans face challenges that can range from employment, homelessness, incarceration, family needs and obtaining VA benefits.”
Renato Izquieta, senior attorney of the Legal Aid Society of Orange County and a member of the American Bar Association Commission on Veterans’ Legal Services, was the keynote speaker. Michael Blecker, executive director of Swords to Plowshares, an organization that provides assistance to thousands of veterans in Northern California every year, also spoke.
“I believe that the Bay Area legal community is just beginning to be aware of veteran legal issues. Without a military base in our near geographical area, knowledge of the veterans community has been slim. However, that has begun to change," Devoy said.
"In recent years, due to programs such as GGU Law’s (and) the Veterans Legal Advocacy Center, and an increasing awareness from the American Bar Association, more attention has been paid to veterans issues.”