A great program at the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law in partnership with the university’s Veterans Law Clinic, is working to address the many legal needs of Michigan veterans. Project Salute focuses on helping vets obtain pension and disability benefits by providing them with education, representation by a law student and in some cases, referrals to attorneys who will work pro bono.
Project Salute has hosted over 65 clinics for vets in 2010, and they have 35 more scheduled for the fall, according to the project’s executive director, Tammy Kudialis.
“More than 36,00 troops have been wounded in action, and all of those veterans need our help,” she says. “You may think of the Veterans’ Administration helping older veterans who served in Vietnam, Korea and even World War II but Afghanistan is the longest running war in U.S. history.”
Kudialis believes that the work of Project Salute sends an important message of support to the veterans they assist,
“They had our back when our country needed defending,” she says, “And now we need to have their back. That’s why we do this.”
As the number of men and women returning home and becoming veteran’s increases, the work of these kinds of veteran-assistance organizations is crucial. Many of the vets that receive help from Project Salute are suffering from various illnesses and require medical help – help that many of them could just not afford without disability and pension checks. Most vets currently receiving aid from the project are Vietnam vets, but Kudialis expects that to change. Often, a veteran becomes ill and needs help maneuvering the VA system in order to obtain the benefits they desperately require, and that’s where Project Salute shines.
The project’s volunteer lawyers and law school students host monthly training programs on the web for other potential volunteers, which provide training on the many ways they can assist the veterans. About one hundred second and third-year law students from the University of Detroit participate in the project, and many handle client cases on their own. Volunteers, though, come from a diverse background: there are corporate attorneys from firms on the Fortune 500 list, and there are lawyers operating their own, smaller firms.
Many of the volunteers are family members of veterans or members of the military who are currently serving. Volunteer training is available online in either eight-hour or three-hour programs. There is undoubtedly a lot to learn about the numerous services offered to vets through the VA.
There are an estimated 90,000 new cases filed by vets seeking benefits annually, and more than 200,000 cases are currently pending. “Seeing some of these cases makes you feel heartbroken,” Kudialis says.
That’s why, this fall, Project Salute will continue its mission to assist Michigan veterans, and will be present at two big upcoming events: one in Kalamazoo in October and another coming up in Detroit next month. A group of volunteers from Ford will also be training new volunteers at the Detroit VA Hospital and Center this fall. Vets will have the opportunity to meet with lawyers who can answer questions about navigating the VA benefits system. The project will also be assisting clients at Highland Park’s Piquette Square, a housing development built solely to house veterans.
The project makes its way across the country in their “Mobile Law Office,” or MLO, a thirty-one foot traveling office donated by General Motors. Since 2008, the MLO has allowed Project Salute to connect with veterans in thirteen states, twenty-two cities, across a 35,000 mile span. Kudialis’s father drives the MLO, and her mother handles the administrative duties. Her husband, a Navy veteran, is also a part of Project Salute.
The MLO allows law students to become directly involved with clients, and now, across the nation, Project Salute has connected with many attorneys who are willing to provide free legal services to the project’s veteran clients. Kudialis hopes to continue establishing partnerships with attorneys willing to work for free.
“It’s a program that is so necessary, and yet you may not think of [it] when you’re looking for pro bono work as a lawyer,” she says.
The next online training seminar for attorneys will be September 23rd, and those interested can register for this and other webinars by visiting the Project Salute Events page. You can also make a donation by visiting their website.
Thanks to the Traverse City Record-Eagle for sharing this story.