Monday, November 12

Veterans Help In Illinois - An Interview With Vets Clinic Director Ryan Coward

[ed. note: This one is for us here in Chicago. All the same, many of the agencies and support organizations mentioned in this post have corollaries in your state. A google search of your state and "veteran aid" will get you started.]

It is encouraging to see members of Congress championing these issues on multiple fronts, but after Veteran's Day is over, who will still be working for the interests of the soldiers? And, more importantly, what can you do to help? Let us give you a subtle suggestion:

As we briefly noted earlier, the John Marshall Law School has recently formed a Veterans Legal Support Center with the charge of aiding vets in getting the benefits they deserve.

I recently spoke to Ryan Coward, Director of the VLSC, about the situation and what the Clinic is doing to help. That interview, and what YOU can do to help, appears after the jump.

Current Employment: What exactly is the VLSC? Will the Clinic be able to help vets with employment issues?
Ryan Coward: There are two parts of the VLSC. The clinic will consist of students who are actually representing the vets in front of the VA [for benefits]. They will be supervised by an attorney. There will also be a pro bono network of attorneys. These attorneys will represent veterans not only for their VA claims but also for a number of different issues, including USERRA related issues. So, while the Veterans Clinic solely assists with medical and educational benefits, any vet with a employment related issue will be referred to this pro bono network where they can receive the appropriate representation for free.

CE: Are there any other resources out there for unemployed vets coming back?
RC: There are a number of resources for unemployed veterans coming back. About once a month there is a job fair in Chicago strictly for those that were in the military. In addition to these job fairs, prominent groups in the Chicago area that assist veterans with obtaining employment are: the Helmets to Hardhats organization, the Troops to Teachers organization, and the Veterans Leadership Program which is a non-for-profit which helps veterans obtain employment.

CE: When does the Clinic start taking cases?
RC: The clinic is taking cases officially January 1, 2008. However, we are currently accepting test cases and also actively referring cases to the attorneys within the pro-bono network.

CE: Is there anything specific that vets returning from the current conflict should do to protect their former jobs?
RC: Yes. One important thing veterans should do is always communicate with their employers in writing. They should also keep copies of these communications. USERRA does a great job in helping protect returning veterans so that they can return to their jobs. The problem that some returning veterans have is that their employers simply aren't familiar with the statute. If there were greater awareness about the regulations many of the current issues returning veterans face may never even arise. The good news is that almost all of these disputes are resolvable. When most employers learn that there are certain laws, which they need to comply with, then they are happy to oblige. If for some reason a veteran does continue to have problems, the best organization to contact is the ESGR (Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve).

As Ryan said, for USERRA matters, the VLSC teamed up with the Illinois Supreme Court to match vets with a trained attorney who will act pro bono on their behalf. In order to do this, of course, they need two things some of you can provide: money and licenced lawyers (employment lawyers might be nice, huh?) willing to be trained.

If you are interested in volunteering, visit or email Mr. Coward at If you would like to donate to the Center, call Scott Kruger, executive director of the John Marshall Foundation, at (312) 386-2806, or email him at