To honor our veterans, we are highlighting a very exciting new pilot project with the Veterans Law Society at the Chicago-Kent College of Law. Interns from the law society will work on the IL-AFLAN (Illinois Armed Forces Legal Aid Network) hotline managed by CARPLS Legal Aid.
1Ls Chase Florance and Rebekah Ent are leading the charge for their fellow students to aid legal aid organizations in working with veterans treatment court, expungement for veterans that have criminal records, and many other issues. The project also helps them gain legal experience while in school, in the hopes they can apply their new skills after graduation.
“Starting law school, I wanted to get involved as much as I could, and veterans hold a special place in my heart,” Ent said. “My boyfriend served in the Marines for five years. Watching him go through the struggles that veterans often go through after they get out of the service has been really eye opening for me. Being able to help veterans that need legal aid in any capacity is really important to me.”
Florance was in the Army Infantry for 14 years.
“A lot of the same struggles that Rebekah is talking about, I experienced firsthand,” he said. “You realize that there’s sort of like a wide spectrum of issues that the veterans face, administratively and legally. When we heard about IL-AFLAN, we just thought here’s a really broad range of solutions that can touch everybody in uniform. And it’s just a great coincidence that we’re closely located at Chicago Kent to interact with CARPLS in the office.”
Karla Chrobak, Supervising Attorney at CARPLS for the IL-AFLAN hotline, is currently training the Veterans Law Society interns on how to take calls on the hotline. The hope is to eventually expand the opportunity to anyone that wants to help and volunteer, not only in the society but anyone at Chicago-Kent looking for a unique volunteer opportunity.
“I’m excited about the opportunities this collaboration represents,” Chrobak said. “Our ultimate goal is to reach every veteran and service member in need of legal assistance. This new relationship with Kent law school means more veterans and service members will benefit from our counsel and get connected with legal resources of which they are otherwise unaware.”
Ent and Chrobak had the idea of first piloting the project to make sure the resources were effective to callers.
“We really can’t wait to help as many people as we can,” Ent said.
“Once we go back to our team, then we can train the next generation and the next generation,” Florance added.
Ent understands that veterans are a very small subset of the community, but it is often veterans that need the most help.
“The call to action is really helping the people that have served us and our country, and given up years and years of their lives to make this country a better place,” she said. “Veterans often get out of the service and don’t know where to go for help. And so it’s awesome to be able to come into a place like IL-AFLAN that has such a presence in Illinois and kind of be able to work off of CARPLS’ reputation and offer our services as we can. And it’s something that any student can help with, get trained up and just take calls remotely and you’re doing something that’s oftentimes super impactful for probably hundreds of people over the years.”
And as Florance mentioned, IL-AFLAN serves more than just veteran-centric issues.
“It’s veterans with regular issues too, and I think that’s a very important distinction that gets lost in the other missions we’re doing because something like discharge upgrades are almost exclusively military,” he said. “What’s nice about IL-AFLAN is that you’re touching everything—custody cases, landlord-tenant disputes, things that we will not touch on the VA side ever.”
Both Ent and Florance come from diverse backgrounds but have a similar passion for helping the veteran’s community.
Ent worked in cyber security in Washington, DC for six years in IT management. She decided to attend law school, not exactly sure what her plans would be after graduation.
“But with my connection to veterans, I knew I wanted to get involved in that aspect of school if I could.”
Most of Florance’s adult life was spent in the Army. Soon after leaving, he started a distillery business.
“The reason why I wanted to go to law school is it seemed like there were advocacy programs that were basically changing the way that generations of veterans are being treated under the law and that kind of impact was just impossible to see at the community level.”
Florance was inspired by a Supreme Court Amicus Brief filed by the Veterans Law Clinic at the University of Illinois Chicago School of Law regarding the issue of equitable tolling of the statute of limitations for veterans’ benefits. For example, if one doesn’t file within a year, they don’t get back benefits, healthcare, etc. However, circumstances like PTSD, military sexual trauma or even national security could affect people from filing claims earlier.
“It really opened up my mind to equitable tolling,” Florance said. “So that kind of intergenerational impact was just extraordinary to me.”
“We’re just super excited to be here, everyone’s been super welcoming and we’re excited to just help in any way we can,” Ent said. “Hopefully we can build a really fruitful relationship, not only for the time we’re in school, but hopefully for years and years to come. We’re just grateful we realize that it has to be a service.”
To date, IL-AFLAN has helped more than 16,000 Illinois veterans. IL-AFLAN attorneys have also secured more than $12 million in financial benefits for local veterans and their families, and more than $8 Million in Veterans Administration benefit appeals.
To be eligible for IL-AFLAN’s services, veterans and active duty military members need to have an income of less than 80 percent of the Chicago area median income. For a family of four, this translates into $63,200 annually.
Learn more about our partner network at ilaflan.org.