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    11.10.15 Students and Faculty Help to Meet the Legal Needs of NYC Veterans
    Veterans Day

    More than a quarter-million veterans currently live in New York City, many with significant needs for legal and social services tailored to their particular issues, including housing, employment, and healthcare. Brooklyn Law School students, faculty, and alumni are working on several fronts to help veterans throughout the five boroughs navigate the legal and social services systems that can prove daunting to those who have limited resources or health concerns.

    Professor Lisa Smith and the Law Students for Veterans Rights organization at the Law School are involved with the recently launched Brooklyn Misdemeanor Veterans Treatment Court, spearheaded by Judge Craig S. Walker of the New York City Civil Court, Kings County. Now a veteran who is arraigned on a misdemeanor in criminal court is redirected to an intake team with the goal to develop an individualized action plan—before their case is prosecuted—that will encourage them to seek treatment for mental health, alcohol and drug abuse, and address housing and vocational or educational issues. 

    Katherine Zhang ‘17, William Meehan ‘16, and Amanda Martin ’17 are taking part in the intake process by conducting interviews with veterans related to complaints about their discharge status and submitting written reports to an assigned attorney. Counselors then work with veterans on their action plans. While the veterans have defense attorneys in addition to counselors, the new court gives them an opportunity to delay prosecution so they can deal with underlying matters.          

    "We were honored to be asked to join in this effort,” said Smith. “It gives our students a chance to work with prosecutors, defense attorneys, and the judiciary in a problem-solving court initiative. This is a criminal justice effort to focus on a significant societal issue in a rational, fair, and creative way.” 

    Smith, director of criminal and judicial externships at the Law School, said she expects the Law School’s involvement to grow during the spring semester thanks to additional help from students in the Veteran’s Rights Clinic, taught by Coco Culhane ‘10.    

    “As the number of veterans returning from Afghanistan and Iraq grows, so does the need for legal services,” said Culhane in a recent issue of Brooklyn Law Notes. “I am grateful to be bringing more awareness to issues that veterans face every day.”

    “Working with veterans is important to me because it allows me to give back to a community that has sacrificed so much for our nation,” said Zhang, co-chair of Law Students for Veterans Rights. “When I got to law school, I knew that I wanted to make a meaningful contribution. This work also allows me to honor and support my brother while he is on active duty.” Zhang’s brother is currently in the U.S. army, finishing a tour in Jordan, and she hopes to one day work with the Army JAG.

    Zhang also interned with the Veteran Advocacy Project  at the Urban Justice Center, where she worked with Culhane, the project’s founder and director, and Equal Justice Works Fellow Justine Pelham ‘14, who manages the fair hearing initiative. The Veteran Advocacy Project provides a range of legal services to the city’s many low-income veterans battling mental illnesses and behavioral health difficulties including post-traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse, and depression.

    More than 50 students have participated in the Veteran Advocacy Project and the Veteran’s Rights Clinic, which is funded by Tyler Korff ’12, a member of the Law School’s Board of Trustees. Korff also funded two fellowships at the Urban Justice Center (awarded to Zhang and Sian Azzinari '17) this summer as well as a half-day symposium, “Fighting for Veterans: Meeting the Need for Legal Services in New York City.”