Public Service

NCCU and UNC-Chapel Hill partner to revive veterans clinic

This partnership will support the universities’ joint effort in assisting active military personnel, veterans and their families who might otherwise not be able to afford proper legal representation.

military law textbook

A new collaboration between the law schools at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and North Carolina Central University will revive NCCU’s Veterans Clinic to meet the ongoing needs of current and former service members in the state of North Carolina.

This partnership will support the universities’ joint effort in assisting active military personnel, veterans and their families who might otherwise not be able to afford proper representation.

“We are thrilled to collaborate with UNC-Chapel Hill and UNC School of Law as we further our commitment to those who valiantly protect our country and have contributed so much to communities across North Carolina,” said NCCU Chancellor Johnson O. Akinleye. “This partnership will provide a strong safety net to help ensure that the needs of our veterans are served.”

As part of the partnership, the UNC School of Law will transfer more than $784,000 to NCCU’s Veterans Clinic, which is the remainder of a previous appropriation to UNC-Chapel Hill from the North Carolina General Assembly to support programs for active duty service members and veterans.

“This partnership between the UNC School of Law and North Carolina Central University School of Law will enable our schools to continue our mission of service to our state,” said UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Kevin M. Guskiewicz. “By working to correct deep injustices suffered by veterans, our clinics will advocate for and provide justice to citizens who are marginalized and face innumerable challenges in our current system. It is an honor to work with our fellow system school to serve our community here in the Triangle and beyond. We thank the General Assembly for providing funding for this important work.”

Active military personnel and veterans have a significant presence in North Carolina as the state is home to five major military bases and stations. According to the National Center for Veterans Analysis and Statistics, North Carolina ranks No. 7 in the U.S. in its total population of veterans with more than 730,000 who reside in the state, representing nearly 10% of North Carolina’s adult population. Yet 7% of North Carolina veterans are unemployed and live in poverty.

UNC-Chapel Hill’s Military and Veterans Law Clinic was formed in 2016. It primarily serves low-income former service members who are currently precluded from receiving Department of Veterans Affairs health care and disability benefits because of their discharge status. Students represent clients before military administrative boards and the VA. Students may also serve as expert veterans’ benefits consultants for active-duty military defense counsel.

For NCCU Interim School of Law Dean Elaine O’Neal, the journey to reestablishing the clinic, which was initially opened in 2007, became a personal investment as her late father was a World War II veteran.

“The re-establishment of the Military and Veterans Clinic is a worthy cause that speaks to the core mission of North Carolina Central University’s School of Law in meeting the needs of underserved communities,” said O’Neal. “We are honored to prepare our students to become socially-responsible lawyers by providing hands-on experience in serving those who defend our nation’s freedom.”

The UNC-Chapel Hill Military and Veterans Law Clinic is one of the UNC School of Law’s 10 in-house clinics. It offers Carolina Law students the opportunity to merge a unique combination of theory and practice, earn academic credit, and provide much-needed legal assistance to clients who are marginalized or otherwise lack access to justice.

“We are grateful to the General Assembly for providing the funding that is allowing the UNC School of Law to collaborate with North Carolina Central University School of Law. By bringing together two clinics to address the critical legal issues that prevent our veterans from receiving services and benefits they were promised, we are improving the lives of service members who have been forgotten,” said Martin H. Brinkley, dean and Arch T. Allen Distinguished Professor of Law. “This partnership will train law students on how to navigate the complicated process of upgrading discharge statuses and fighting for health care and disability benefits for those without a voice.”

“This transformative partnership will empower both clinics to better serve the people of North Carolina,” said John Brooker, clinical associate professor of law and director of the UNC Military and Veterans Law Clinic. “Our clinics are stronger together.  Through joint training and continuous collaboration, our students and faculty will build the deep knowledge and meaningful relationships required to correct the injustices suffered by former service members whose lives have been severely impacted by mental health challenges, racial discrimination, and a lack of access to health care. We will leverage the resources of the entire University of North Carolina System to assist those who have no one else to advocate for their rights.”

The NCCU Veterans Clinic will handle benefit claims in various stages of appeals. Cases may revolve around disability claims, survivors’ benefits, pension and other issues. Additionally, the NCCU School of Law operates specialty clinics in eight other areas, civil litigation, criminal defense, family law, intellectual property (patent and trademark), juvenile law, pro bono, tax law and consumer issues. Services are free to those who qualify as in need or who are able to meet the financial eligibility standards as determined by the appropriate legal standards.