Sunday, October 25, 2020

National Boot Camp: Crowdsourced Orientation for Veterans Clinics - by Jennifer Morrell (Widener University Delaware Law School)

This past August, law student interns and faculty from all over the country gathered to attend a virtual boot camp for clinics serving veterans. The goal of the program was to provide a unique onboarding experience to incoming veterans clinic interns, by pooling the expertise of the nation’s veterans law clinicians. 

The boot camp offered a day-long live program, as well as an array of asynchronous programming. All sessions are now available on the website of the National Law School Veterans Clinic Consortium (NLSVCC), which hosted the event. 

The live program kicked off with opening remarks by Chief Judge Margaret Bartley of the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims (CAVC).  Chief Judge Bartley shared that she interned with the first law school veterans clinic in the country at American University Washington College of Law in fall 1991 and spring 1992, where she handled both a Board of Veterans’ Appeals hearing as well as an appeal before the CAVC. 

“I feel like I'm really lucky that I did right off the bat enjoy doing this area of law,” Chief Judge Bartley stated.  “Not only is it enjoyable, but it’s very worthwhile in that we’re helping people who served the country and who really need our help.”

Chief Judge Bartley traced the origins of the CAVC with the 1988 passage of the Veterans’ Judicial Review Act and also discussed the most recent veterans legislation—the Appeals Modernization Act, which took effect in 2019. The Chief Judge stated that the new law has already led to two issues before the Court which will be decided by a three-judge panel.  “It’s exciting,” she said, “a whole new area of veterans law—how to apply the AMA.”

The idea for the boot camp grew out of a meeting of veterans clinic faculty regarding best practices for remote supervision. Professor Hilary Wandler, Director of the Clinical Law Program and Veterans Advocacy Clinic of the University of Montana School of Law, spearheaded the organization of the event, with assistance from Yelena Duterte (Assistant Professor of Law and Director of the Veterans Legal Clinic at UIC John Marshall Law School), and other NLSVCC members.  The idea was met with such enthusiastic support from the veterans clinic community that just three months from that initial brainstorming session, the event unfolded with nary a wrinkle.

The live program—held Friday, August 21, 2020—drew over 200 attendees.  That date was voted on by event speakers and NLSVCC members and considered the best timeframe for coinciding with the start of fall semester at the various veterans clinics around the country.

Clinicians were invited to propose topics for both the synchronous and asynchronous sessions.  The live boot camp offered six sessions, on topics such as cultural competency in representing veterans, service connection basics, and military discharge upgrades. A total of 11 asynchronous sessions—covering such topics as evidence gathering and CAVC practice—also are posted to the NLSVCC website.

Daniel Elsen, a 3L at the Alexander Blewett II School of Law Veterans Advocacy Clinic at the University of Montana, said the program provided him a broad overview of the process for advocating for veterans.  “It is hard to imagine starting work in the VAC without the invaluable experience of boot camp,” he said.

Professor Wandler and fellow organizers were so pleased with the outcome of the boot camp and the feedback on the program that they plan to hold the boot camp annually.  Based on participant feedback, the second annual boot camp likely will be split into two half days of programming and will allow for more breaks in between sessions.

For more information on NLSVCC and to access the boot camp materials, please visit

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