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Law students offer legal help for veterans

Back Row: Theresa Hassler, Cholla Khoury, Chris Natynski, Bob Rigg. Front Row: Jon Biderman, Alana Stamas, Kiyo Balk, Sam Benham, Jon Noble

Eleven Drake law students recently participated in the Veteran’s Administration Stand Down, offering legal advice and assistance to homeless veterans.

Students were under the supervision of Bob Rigg, associate professor of law and director of the criminal defense program.

The Stand Down, which happens twice a year, gives veterans the opportunity to access a variety of services including medical care, social services, clothing and letter-writing services in addition to legal council.

Sam Benham, a third year law student from Springfield, Ohio, has participated in two previous Stand Down events.

Theresa Hassler interacts with a veteran at the Stand Down. The Stand Down

“There are a lot of barriers for veterans who return from the service and a lot of them end up in poverty,” he said. “Being able to volunteer and help break down those barriers is great. It serves a need in the community.”

Veterans also get a chance to check public records for warrants and fines that could stop them from getting a job or driver’s license. Then, if they face any legal issues, the students from the Drake Legal Clinic can offer assistance.

Not only did the veterans benefit from the services provided to them, but the legal clinic benefited as well.

“We get to put our name out there which helps in terms of community relations,” Benham said. “We don’t get too many opportunities to go out and find clients.” The clinic opened 23 new files.

The Stand Down also provided valuable experience for the student volunteers.

“The volunteers get a chance to help veterans and other homeless, or those who need some assistance in navigating the system,” said Federal Court Judge Celeste Bremmer, who also worked with Drake students.

“It gives a chance for those who have knowledge and skills to share them, and gives participants a positive impression of the justice system.”

Stand Downs are national events held as part of the Department of Veterans Affairs’ efforts to provide basic necessities and services to homeless veterans.

The first Stand Down was organized in 1988 by a group of Vietnam Veterans in San Diego. Since then, Stand Downs have been used as an effective tool in reaching out to homeless Veterans, reaching more than 200,000 veterans and their families between 1994-2000.