Jessica Marsden

  • Hosted by University of North Carolina School of Law Clinical Program
  • Sponsored by Kirkland & Ellis, Raytheon
  • Service location Chapel Hill, North Carolina
  • Law school Yale Law School
  • Issue area Veterans' Rights
  • Fellowship class year 2016
  • Program Design Your Own Fellowship

The Project

As veterans return from deployments, many struggle with physical and mental health challenges caused by their military service. Some veterans receive a less-than-fully-honorable characterization of service that bars them from accessing VA benefits. They are eligible to apply for a discharge upgrade, and Congress and the Department of Defense have recently made it easier for veterans who suffer from service-connected PTSD and Traumatic Brain Injury to win an upgrade. But very few veterans have access to an affordable lawyer to assist them with those proceedings, even though legal representation can make a huge difference in a veteran’s likelihood of success.

Jessica will represent central North Carolina veterans discharge upgrade applications and VA benefit appeals, and initiate a UNC law clinic to empower UNC law students to advocate for veterans in the same proceedings.

Fellowship Highlights

In the past two years, Jessica has:

  • Secured or applied for discharge upgrades for veterans who were less-than-honorably discharged for their sexuality, for misconduct caused by mental health conditions, and in violation of their due process rights, among other reasons.
  • Supervised 11 UNC Law students who represented clients in discharge upgrade cases, before the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, and in federal court.
  • In partnership with the North Carolina Pro Bono Resource Center, launched a series of drop-in advice clinics at local VA medical facilities for pro bono attorneys from North Carolina to advise on family law, criminal law, and other matters.

What’s Next

Now that the Fellowship is complete, Jessica plans to:

  • Join Protect Democracy as a Counsel to work on rule of law and the protection of democratic norms.
  • Stay involved with veterans issues as a pro bono attorney volunteer.

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