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University of Kansas receives $1.6 million to launch law clinic dedicated to issues of veterans

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University of Kansas receives $1.6 million to launch law clinic dedicated to issues of veterans

Apr 12, 2024 | 4:02 pm ET
By Tim Carpenter
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University of Kansas receives $1.6 million to launch law clinic dedicated to veterans’ issues
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Two University of Kansas law school graduates, former Kansas Supreme Court Chief Justice Lawton Nuss, left, and retired U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Clyde J. "Butch" Tate II celebrated U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran's announcement of a $1.6 million federal grant to create a law school clinic dedicated to needs of veterans. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

LAWRENCE — Retired U.S. Marine Corps Capt. Cody White served in uniform for 16 years until an unexpected diagnosis of diabetes prematurely ended his military career.

White, who grew up in Troup, Texas, and is among first-year law students at the University of Kansas, looked back fondly of his years of service in the Marine Corps. When that career was cut short, however, he had to deal with a behemoth of administrative complexities that surfaced in the U.S. Department of Defense and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, he said.

“Fortunately, for me, I was provided legal counsel to go through that process to help, to guide me, to assist me through the darky murky waters that I faced,” White said. “I came out OK. Unfortunately, thousands of veterans a year do not have such luck. This is a tragic reality.”

White said announcement Friday of a $1.6 million federal appropriation to launch a KU School of Law clinic dedicated to working on issues revolving around veterans could serve as a beacon of hope for men and women striving to navigate legal issues in the government bureaucracy. It would help law students gain practical insight into legal obstacles faced by veterans and introduce students to potential careers in the specialized field of law, he said.

“It will also foster a culture of empathy and understanding between the legal community and veterans,” he said. “This clinic will enable us to ensure our veterans receive the justice and support they deserve. From the bottom of my heart, and please let me represent the entire student body when I say, ‘Thank you.'”

The KU clinic would provide free legal aid for veterans experiencing issues related to disability claims, discharge upgrades or criminal charges tied to service-connected incidents.

Law students and faculty would be in a position to address ramifications of mental illness and substance abuse that complicated transition from military to civilian life. The clinic also could work on debt collection, family law, child support, landlord-tenant disputes or revoked driving licenses.

U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran, a Kansas Republican who graduated from the KU law school in 1982, returned to his alma mater to celebrate the $1.6 million federal appropriation that crossed the finish line a few weeks ago. While the federal government would financially support activities to get the clinic off the ground, the university would assume responsibility for ongoing funding.

Moran said 88% of low-income veterans had inadequate or no legal assistance, including those grappling with basic access for VA financial and health benefits. An estimated 190,000 veterans reside in Kansas. The law clinic, like several dozen comparable clinics located outside Kansas, would serve as a vehicle to deliver desperately need legal services, the senator said.

“I recognize that my family and I have the opportunities that we have based upon the service of those who serve today and who preceded those who serve today,” said Moran, who has been on either the U.S. House or U.S. Senate veterans affairs committee for 28 years. “They will now receive service and, perhaps, find justice.”

Moran said the clinic would contribute to the law school’s sense of public purpose while offer hands-on experience of interacting with clients with veteran status.

The concept of a KU law school clinic for veterans was put forward about a decade ago by retired U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Clyde J. “Butch” Tate II, was served as deputy judge advocate general and graduated from the KU law school. He currently works with All Rise, a nonprofit providing technical support and training for people involved with specialty treatment courts for veterans.

“I realized that the issues facing the veterans in those courts were but one of the challenges they faced to a full reintegration to a productive life,” Tate said. “You could take care of the criminal issue, but then you had these layers of civil issues really weighing them down.”

Retired Kansas Supreme Court Chief Justice Lawton Nuss, a former U.S. Marine Corps officer who also attended the clinic announcement, said the law clinic could eventually be a contributor to a Douglas County court for veterans. The state has such courts in Wyandotte, Sedgwick, Johnson, Leavenworth and Shawnee counties, but Nuss said there was an effort was underway to secure U.S. Department of Justice support for the state’s sixth.

“We’re working real hard to get one here in Douglas County,” Nuss said.

Stephen Mazza, dean of the KU law school, said there was a history of the law school serving legal needs of people who otherwise couldn’t afford representation.

The school’s legal aid clinic has been in place for 55 years, he said. More recently, the law school established medical legal partnerships at the KU Medical Center and Lawrence Memorial Hospital. He said the Project for Innocence extended legal services to prison inmates, while an elder law program operated out of the university.

“These clinics and partnerships have made an important positive impact on our community,” Mazza said. “They are an important part of the legacy of this law school.”