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Emory Law News Center


Blank Foundation gift will expand legal services for veterans

Lisa Ashmore |
Soldier with son

Emory Law’s Volunteer Clinic for Veterans will increase its support of Georgia veterans next year by hiring another staff attorney, funded by a grant from the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation.

The clinic was one of 14 organizations that earned funding in 2022 from the foundation’s Overwatch Fund, which distributed its $1 million budget to charitable entities that provide “opportunities, purpose, and support for veterans in Georgia and Montana.” The grant totals $150,000 that will be distributed over two years, giving the clinic the opportunity to take on more pro bono cases including discharge upgrades, basic estate planning, and petitions for VA disability benefits.

“Given Georgia’s high veteran population and the likely increase in disability claims under The PACT Act, we are honored to receive the Blank Family Foundation’s gift,” said Emory VCV Staff Attorney Carlissa Carson 08L. “We will help more former military personnel receive the benefits that they earned through their service.” 

Emory VCV is a student-run clinic that provided legal experience with real clients for about 20 Emory Law student volunteers this year. Students work anywhere from three to 20 hours a semester and are guided by Carson and about 10 volunteer legal professionals as they assist veterans with civil legal services.

Recent legal victories

Emory VCV represents veterans from current conflicts to those harmed in conflicts decades ago. Carson cites two recent examples of life-changing results: A Gulf War veteran suffered PTSD from a search-and-rescue mission he performed during service on the USS Saratoga.

“We prepared a detailed brief and represented the veteran before the Board of Veterans Appeals. He was granted a 100% disability rating,” Carson said. “He received a $131,200 backdated benefit and will also receive a $3,437 monthly benefit for life.” Estimated total benefit: $1.3 million.

A Vietnam War veteran was exposed to Agent Orange and other tactical herbicides during his tour of duty. His VA claim was denied, but when the Agent Orange Act of 1991 was amended to include new presumptive conditions, the clinic successfully refiled on behalf of his widow. (In 2020, bladder cancer was added as a condition presumed to be caused by the defoliant.)

“Based on the change in law, Emory VCV filed an appeal and prepared a brief presenting evidence establishing that the veteran’s duties routinely and consistently exposed him to Agent Orange and his death was a result of his in-service exposure,” Carson said. His widow received a $72,353.85 backdated tax-free benefit and will also receive $1,357.56 a month for life. Estimated total benefit: $345,000. 

Also, in the past two years the clinic has saved veterans more than $75,000 in estate-planning fees, Carson said.

Georgia ranks No. 9 in veteran population

An estimated 700,000 former servicemen and women reside in Georgia. The gift’s timing is fortunate because Carson expects an uptick in filings due to this year’s passage of The PACT Act. The legislation greatly expands the scope of illnesses for which the Veterans Administration will provide disability benefits and medical care.

The clinic was founded in 2013 by second-year Emory Law students Martin Bunt 14L and Rachel Erdman 14L, Professor of Law Emeritus Charles Shanor, and retired King & Spalding Partner Lane Dennard. It was the first such clinic in Georgia and has received the Excellence in Access to Justice Award from the State Bar of Georgia, among other recognition. It is supported by the Military/Veterans Law Section of the Georgia Bar and the Military Legal Assistance Program. Since 2020, the clinic’s work has resulted in $4 million in backdated and future VA disability benefits for more than 100 veterans or their families.