Jennifer Oliva, inaugural director of WVU's Veterans Advocacy Clinic

MORGANTOWN – A recent $10,000 grant award to the West Virginia University College of Law’s Veterans Advocacy Clinic will aid in its mission to serve the approximately 170,000 veterans in the state, the clinic's director said during a recent interview.

The Veterans Consortium Pro Bono Program grant was awarded as part of a competitive grant application and review process," said Jennifer Oliva, the clinic's inaugural director, during an email interview with The West Virginia Record. "Each year the Veterans Consortium Pro Bono Program offers grants to law school veterans’ clinics to launch their operations or to advance their work on behalf of veterans and their loved ones or their survivors."

The number and amount of grants the program awards vary based on funds it has available and the number of grant applications received, Oliva said.

"The WVU Veterans Advocacy Clinic submitted a grant application seek a grant in the amount of $10,000 in order to better enable the clinic to provide outreach and legal services to Veterans throughout the state of West Virginia as well as to help pay for much-needed medical and psychiatric evaluations for West Virginia veterans who do not have access to VA medical care," she said.

The grant was announced by WVU earlier this month. Dave Meyers, director of case evaluation and placement for the Veterans Consortium Pro Bono Program, presented the check to Gregory Bowman, dean of the College of Law, during a recent Veterans Stand Down at the Morgantown National Guard Armory.

"Under faculty supervision, student in the Veterans Advocacy Law Clinic represent the state’s veterans in litigation before administrative agencies and courts on benefits, discharge upgrades, employment claims, and other civil and criminal matters," WVU's announcement said. "In addition, law students represent local and national organizations in non-litigation matters relating to the legal needs of veterans, including regulatory and legislative reform efforts, media advocacy, and strategic planning."

The non-profit Veterans Consortium Pro Bono Program was founded in 1992 by the American Legion, the Disabled American Veterans, the National Veterans Legal Services Program and the Paralyzed Veterans of America. The program's goal is to train attorneys to provide free legal representation before the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims.

The Veterans Consortium Pro Bono Program grand award was made as part of "Minds: The Campaign for West Virginia's University," which runs through December 2017.

The work provided by the WVU law clinic is extensive, Oliva said, adding. "There are approximately 170,000 veterans who currently reside in West Virginia, many with acute and unique legal needs related to their military service or return to civilian life. In the Veterans Advocacy Clinic, students will have the opportunity to represent West Virginia veterans in litigation before administrative agencies and courts, on benefits, discharge upgrades, employment claims and other civil and criminal matters. In addition, students will represent local and national organizations in non-litigation matters relating to the legal needs of veterans, including regulatory and legislative reform efforts, media advocacy, and strategic planning."

The clinic's works-in-progress include collaboration with U.S. District Court, U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Federal Office of Probation and Parole for the Northern District of West Virginia, where students represent veterans, Oliva said.

The clinic also collaborates with several other WVU School of Law clinics, including General Practice, Child and Family Advocacy, Entrepreneurship and Innovation Law Clinics and Innocent Project.

"The project aims to assist ex-offenders to successfully navigate the myriad state laws and policies that serve as legal barriers to re-entry in the areas of employment, public housing, public benefits, voting, access to criminal records, expungement, adoptive and foster parenting, and drivers licenses," Oliva said.

The Veterans Advocacy Law Clinic also provides legal services to veterans through the WVU Clinical Law Program’s longstanding and innovative cooperative affiliation with the Louis A. Johnson Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Clarksburg.

"Among other things, this cooperative initiative supports the VA’s Department of Veterans Affairs Homeless Veterans legal referral process, which is designed to prevent homelessness by connecting eligible veterans with legal services as an alternative to incarceration or other traditional criminal sanctions," Oliva said.

The clinic boasts a number of success stories, including the clinic's service to homeless veterans during the 2016 Veteran Stand Down in September, when the clinic provided legal services to homeless and unemployed veterans.

"Stand Downs are typically one- to three-day events providing supplies and services to homeless veterans, such as food, shelter, clothing, health screenings and VA Social Security benefits counseling," Oliva said.

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