“I had never considered military law as aligning with my interest, but I could definitely get on board with making sure people had the resources this country promises its veterans.”Megan bishop ’18
Alex*, a Marine Corps veteran, endured a traumatic experience while deployed on the Balkan Peninsula more than 20 years ago. He never talked about it; the collateral damage showed up only in a positive drug test while he was still serving. That black mark on his record became a magnet for trouble — his superiors wrote him up for tattoos and body piercings and disrespecting an officer — which led to a court martial and his bad conduct discharge.
Nowadays, the military screens all soldiers before and after deployment to pick up on indications of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder before the behaviors escalate. But Alex struggled on his own for years without access to any benefits from the military to help him repair his life.
Megan Bishop ’18 met him when he sought help from UNC School of Law’s Military and Veterans Law Clinic, formed in 2016 to offer students experience in administrative law. The discharge upgrades and access to VA benefits that the clinic took on appealed to her interest in public interest law and disability rights.
“I had never considered military law as aligning with my interest,” she said. “But I could definitely get on board with making sure people had the resources this country promises its veterans.”
As a lawyer, Bishop spoke the same language as those who would be reviewing the application. She was able to refer to the regulations and Department of Defense guidance the board uses to make its decision. The clinic gave her an opportunity to practice developing relationships with clients.
“I not only had to think about how we were going to build a case,” she said, “but how to get him to open up to me, a stranger and a student, to talk about a traumatic experience he had not talked about for 20 years.”
The military did not render a decision before she graduated. Fortunately, the law firm that hired her allowed her to keep working on the case for her pro bono commitment encouraged by Rule 6.1 of the Rules of Professional Conduct. Because cases in the Military and Veterans Law Clinic deal with federal law, even students who move out of state can continue to help their clients.
Finally, 18 months after Bishop had filed the application, the military granted Alex an upgrade to General (under honorable conditions).
More important than winning the judgment, Bishop said, was the door it opened for her client, who was able to get treatment to deal with PTSD.
*Name has been changed to protect privacy.
— Nancy Oates