Sunday Conversation with Mallory Ball

Law clinic offers free legal advice for veterans

Every other Monday beginning Feb. 22, a portion of the Starbucks near the new Ponce City Market in Atlanta will become a law office for veterans. The Emory Law Volunteer Clinic for Veterans will offer Military Mondays, free legal advice to veterans looking for representation on everything from service-related disability claims to pension issues. Starbucks is supplying the space and, of course, the coffee. “Maybe it is intimidating for a veteran to speak with an attorney at a law office,” says Mallory Ball, Equal Justice Works AmeriCorps Fellow with the law clinic. “And there is something relaxing about meeting at Starbucks.”

Q: What exactly is the Emory Law Volunteer Clinic for Veterans?

A: Emory Law Professor Charlie Shanor and Lane Dennard, a retired partner from King & Spalding, along with two law students, started the clinic in 2013. Today, about 70 volunteer attorneys around Atlanta take cases, and about 30 student volunteers are paired with them. We give free legal advice to veterans and their families on a number of issues but mostly service-connected disability and pension claims with Veterans Affairs, records corrections, simple wills, healthcare directives and discharge upgrades. We do not handle criminal matters.

Q: What is a discharge upgrade?

A: This allows a veteran to apply to upgrade a less than fully honorable military discharge. It is important to veterans because an upgrade may allow a veteran access to VA benefits and the GI Bill.

Q: Where did you get the idea for Military Mondays?

A: The William & Mary School of Law in Virginia has a veterans clinic and they started the Military Mondays program with Starbucks, offering a relaxed environment to veterans to meet with attorneys on a limited representation basis. I reached out to the director of the clinic and she connected me with Starbucks, which has been great.

Q: How does the program work?

A: Veterans can make a one-hour appointment to meet with an attorney who will go over their claims and next steps that the veteran needs to proceed with their case. Starbucks reserves a section of the store and provides free snacks and coffee.

Q: Do veterans have to make an appointment?

A: The advantage of having one is that we can do intake over the phone so we can tell veterans what paperwork they need to bring. While we encourage appointments, we are not going to turn away walk-ins. Additionally, a veterans outreach coordinator from the Emory Healthcare Veterans Program will have a table set up to answer questions and hand out information and the work they do to help veterans.

Q: Do veterans’ cases take a long time to resolve?

A: The wait times for resolution to a veteran’s claim can be years. It is not uncommon for veterans to pass away while waiting for the benefits that they should have received. Unless there is a surviving spouse or family member who can be substituted for the claim, those benefits die with the veteran.

Q: Do you like working on veterans’ cases?

A: I do because the clients are very deserving of the help we provide. The complexity and breadth of the VA is unlike any other administrative agency. The claims process can be frustrating for some attorneys to navigate, so I can only imagine how frustrating it must be for veterans, especially for a veteran suffering from a mental disability, to navigate the process.

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