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Bowen Law School Starting Clinic to Help Vets

3 min read

Simon Kelly’s lobbying effort for a veterans’ legal clinic in Arkansas paid off.

The University of Arkansas at Little Rock Bowen School of Law said last week that it is starting a Veterans Legal Services Clinic.

Kelly, 32, who joined the Kentucky Army National Guard a year after he graduated high school, had been pushing for a clinic since he enrolled in the Law School three years ago.

In fact, Kelly said he chose the Bowen Law School because it was open to the idea of starting a veterans’ legal clinic.

At a news conference last week, Theresa Beiner, dean of the Law School, said the clinic is in the process of hiring a director. And she said she hopes to have second- and third-year law students working at the clinic in the spring semester.

A faculty member will supervise up to eight students per semester who will represent Arkansas vets in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs disability appeal process and in appeals of discharge status cases. The scope of legal services could expand later.

The clinic also will be used as the Veterans Pro Bono Services Center for Arkansas. The center will offer attorneys free continuing legal education on veterans’ issues and connect them with vets who need legal assistance.

Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge and Gov. Asa Hutchinson said during the news conference that each of their offices would contribute $750,000 to create the clinic.

Beiner said the budget for the clinic will be about $200,000 annually.

She said the clinic couldn’t have been created without the financial support of the offices of the AG and governor.

“There are 220,000 veterans in Arkansas,” Col. Nate Todd, the state cabinet secretary of the Arkansas Department of Veterans Affairs, said at the news conference. “The majority of them are doing quite well. … However, some might need legal assistance.”

He said the clinic will help the vets navigate the disability appeals process.

Hutchinson said that he handled veterans’ cases when he practiced law. “So I know the need is out there,” he said. “And this veterans’ clinic here is going to be highly utilized.”

He said more than 74,000 veterans’ claims have been pending for four months. “If there’s a denial there and the veteran wants to appeal that, the appeal process could take between three and five years,” Hutchinson said.

Kelly Gets Involved

Kelly said he was motivated to start a veterans’ clinic after reading an article a few years ago that said a VA facility had accidently infected veterans with hepatitis C.

“To see veterans mistreated like that kind of lit a fire inside of me,” Kelly said. “I’ve been trying to advocate for my brothers and sisters since then, because if we’re going to be sent to war, we need to be able to come home and at least find some type of solace or protection from the system.”

After graduating from the University of Louisville in 2013, Kelly said, he started looking for law schools to attend but not all of them were open to the idea of starting a legal clinic for vets. Then he approached Matthew Kerns, Bowen’s assistant dean of admissions, scholarships and enrollment data.

“He was on board immediately,” Kelly said. “He said it was something they never really look at, but if a student wanted to champion it, they would support it.”

So Kelly did.

Kelly graduated in May and is awaiting his results on the Arkansas Bar Exam. Once he becomes a licensed attorney, he said, he plans to handle cases for veterans and criminal defense work.

After the news conference, Kelly said he was “delighted” with the school’s announcement. “Some schools took a lot longer than three years to get the clinic funded and going,” he said.

He said he hopes that the veterans clinic expands into offering other services that veterans need. “I just look forward to seeing what this clinic turns into,” Kelly said.

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