MLaw celebrates Veterans Legal Clinic kickoff

By Amy Spooner
U-M Law

The maize and blue honored the red, white, and blue as the presentation of the colors by the U-M ROTC Color Guard kicked off a festive celebration of Michigan Law's Veterans Legal Clinic.

"I have been looking forward to today for a very long time," said U-M Regent Katherine White at the November 5 event. "This celebration makes it official: the Veterans Legal Clinic at the University of Michigan Law School is standing ready to serve those who have served." White, who is both an attorney and a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army, said that many veterans can face daunting legal issues after returning from deployment, and the path toward quality legal care can be confusing and/or cost prohibitive. "The more than 660,000 veterans in the state of Michigan need someone to take their case, be their advocate, and have their back. We are compelled to step up. I am proud to say Michigan Law is doing precisely that."

With a seed gift from the Bob Woodruff Foundation, a lead gift from Susan and Tom Washing, '66, and gifts from other individuals, firms, and foundations, the Veterans Legal Clinic became the Law School's 18th clinic this fall. "Today's celebration wouldn't be happening without those whose generous support made the Veterans Clinic possible," said Dean Mark West. "We are grateful to them, and we also are grateful for the advice and enthusiastic response we have received from the community, from the military, and from other organizations that serve our veterans."

Staffed with six Michigan Law student-attorneys - five of whom are veterans - the clinic represents veterans and, in some instances, their immediate families in a variety of civil matters. It also will assist veterans with service-related matters such as disability benefits and discharge status challenges. In addition, the clinic will work collaboratively with other units on campus, including the schools of social work and medicine, to holistically address veterans' needs upon returning home. It's an array of services that is long overdue for the state of Michigan's military veterans, who number among the highest state totals nationwide. By seeking to address their needs, the Veterans Legal Clinic upholds Michigan's ideals as a public university, noted U-M President Mark Schlissel.

"We measure our success as a University by the impact we make on society," Schlissel said. "Over the years we have also built an impressive assembly of excellent academic programs in disciplines that have a tremendous impact of people's lives. These programs provide some of the best experiential opportunities, so our students learn as they serve. I am very proud that the University of Michigan's excellence and impact are both represented so strongly in the clinic we are celebrating today."

Keynote remarks were given by Dave Woodruff, the chairman of the Bob Woodruff Foundation, and his brother Bob Woodruff, who addressed attendees via video from Southeast Asia while on assignment for ABC News. The Bob Woodruff Foundation was established after Bob nearly died from injuries sustained in an explosion while on assignment for ABC in Iraq in 2006. As he recovered in a military hospital, he learned of a wounded veteran down the hall whose family couldn't afford to take leaves of absence from work to be with him. Woodruff later met another veteran who was not eligible to receive some benefits because while injuries had taken his vision, he was not declared to be 100 percent blind. "Imagine what would have happened if there had been law students fighting for these veterans' rights," Woodruff said. "Someday you will be able to look back on your time in law school, and share stories of what you witnessed in the veterans legal world and how you fixed it," he told the students in the audience. "You should be very, very proud."

One of the inaugural student-attorneys in the clinic, second-year student Alexis Bailey, shared that pride and excitement on behalf of the students. "To say that we are enthusiastic supporters of this endeavor would be an understatement," said Bailey, who is the president of the Michigan Law student veterans' organization and also a major in the United States Air Force Reserve. "We all have different service backgrounds and different career ambitions, but we are united in the cause of serving others who have served our country."

Published: Wed, Nov 18, 2015