Veterans Justice Project


The Veterans Legal Clinic—its official title in the curriculum is the Veterans Law and Disability Benefits Clinic–is made up of three collaborative projects:  the  Veterans Justice Project; the Estate Planning Project; and the Safety Net Project.  Through these three projects, students represent veterans and their family members in a variety of case types.  In all our case work, we strive to help veterans and their families attain the maximum degree of stability, dignity, and financial well being.  We use creative legal strategies not just to vindicate the rights of individual veterans, but to pursue systemic reforms within the institutions and programs that are designed to support the veteran community.

Enrollment in all three projects is through the Veterans Law and Disability Benefits Clinic and Clinical Seminar.  We ask enrolled students to express their preference for one of our three project areas.  Students can also choose, however, to work across two projects if that option is attractive to them.  We fully expect to be able to honor each student’s first preference for working in a particular project. This page is about the Veterans Justice Project.  Please scroll down to learn more.

In addition, as this Clinic is part of the Legal Services Center (LSC), you are encouraged to visit LSC’s Clinical Student FAQs page.  There you will find helpful information about all manner of topics relevant to students, including the travel subsidy LSC provides to students and the shuttle van LSC operates for students.

(For more information about the Estate Planning Project, please click here.  For more information about the Safety Net Project, please click here here.)

About the Work of the Veterans Justice Project

A Veterans Legal Clinic client during his Afghanistan deployment.
A Veterans Legal Clinic client during his deployment.

The Veterans Justice Project serves veterans (and their survivors) who are marginalized and who would otherwise go without legal representation.  We prioritize advocating for individuals with mental health conditions, Military Sexual Trauma survivors, veterans who experienced discrimination during their military service, whether on account of race, gender, LGBTQI+ status, or other identity-based discrimination, and formerly incarcerated individuals.

Students in the Clinic engage in hands-on lawyering and work with their own clients. Through clinical practice, students learn skills such as client and witness interviewing; client counseling; working with medical experts; gathering evidence; drafting pleadings, motions, briefs, and legal instruments; presenting at evidentiary hearings or oral argument; engaging in negotiation; developing strategic litigation strategies; and solving ethical dilemmas.  In representing individual clients, students have opportunities to engage in systemic reform initiatives, such as through strategic litigation and policy advocacy, to improve the lives of veterans and military families.

A Clinic client during his deployment.

Many of our clients comes to us when they lack permanent housing or face imminent homelessness. Many have serious health issues, whether physical or mental health or both. Some clients are older and their military service ended decades ago.  Others are younger and have returned from recent overseas deployments.  About 20% of our clients are women veterans.  Clinic students have frequent opportunities to interact with their clients.  In addition, students often have opportunities to work with medical and psychological experts and to work on cases at the intersection of mental health and the law.

Our docket includes four main components:

(1)  Administrative and Court Litigation against VA:  We represent veterans and family members in administrative and court appeals to challenge denials of federal  veterans benefits–whether denials of disability benefits, healthcare, educational and vocational supports, or other life necessities.  Students in the Clinic regularly practice before the Board of Veterans’ Appeals, the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.  For examples of students’ advocacy in these fora, please see here, here, here, and here.

(2) Administrative and Court Litigation Involving Massachusetts Veterans Benefits:  We represent veterans and family members who have been unlawfully denied state-funded Massachusetts veterans benefits.  These cases provide opportunities for students to represent clients in evidentiary hearings, argument on motions, brief writing, and state appellate practice.  More about Massachusetts veterans benefits–and appellate rights–can be found at the  Massachusetts Veterans Benefit Calculator, which is a website launched and maintained by the Veterans Justice Project.  For examples of students’ work on state benefit appeals, please see here, here, here, here, here, and here.

(3)  Military Discharge Upgrades:  We represent veterans who were wrongfully discharged from the military and unjustly received a less-than-honorable discharge or other adverse determination that has robbed them of dignity and denied them post-discharge opportunities to access life-sustaining financial benefits, healthcare, housing, and employment.  We represent such veterans before U.S. Department of Defense tribunals and in federal court in order to obtain military discharge upgrades and other forms of relief–which, if successful, can be life transforming for the veteran.  Many of the veterans we represent in these cases experienced the invisible wounds of war (PTSD and Traumatic Brain Injury), are survivors of combat-related  trauma and/or Military Sexual Trauma, and/or were discharged from the military based on discriminatory policies or practices.  For examples of our work in this area, see hereherehere, here, here, and here.

One of the Clinic’s discharge upgrade clients.

(4) Policy Advocacy:  We also pursue systemic reforms through policy advocacy, whether via legislation or agency-level efforts.  Our policy advocacy work takes place at both the federal and state levels. For examples of our policy advocacy work, please see herehere, here, here, here, and here.

No matter the case type or procedural posture, students–under thoughtful attorney supervision and mentorship–take the reins of their cases and act as lead counsel.

A Window into one Clinic Student’s Work with his Client

To learn more about our docket, please see here.

To learn more about some of our work to advance the field of veterans advocacy itself, please see here.

Students Describe Their Experiences in the Clinic

“Coming into law school, I wasn’t sure what I necessarily wanted to do after this. But to see the actual impact you can have, and the effect you can have in getting benefits for the people who deserve them and were wrongfully treated: that was really eye-opening for me.”

“…I think it’s incredible [that] we actually did, as a bunch of law students, change VA policy. That’s one of the proudest things I can say I’ve done, not only in law school but in life up to this point.”

“I am proud that I could transform my client’s life for the better and am still amazed at the life-transforming responsibility that the Veterans Law Clinic places in its student attorneys.”

My days working on a case in the Veterans Law and Disability Benefits Clinic “were the most formative and rewarding experiences at Harvard Law School.”

“I took three clinics during my time at HLS. The Veterans Justice Project within VLDBC was most rewarding…and its guiding philosophy is student attorneys ‘owning’ cases. At prior clinics, I was often responsible for a workstream or research project, but never an entire case, let alone the responsibility of representing four clients across the country.”

Two legal skills stand out from the four months I spent in the clinic: first, I was pushed to think strategically about litigation in a new way; second, my client counseling skills were put to the test.”

“My time with the Veterans Legal Clinic has been extremely rewarding. I have learned a great deal about how the law impacts the veteran community on a daily basis, and have honed my negotiation, advocacy, and legal writing skills. But the most gratifying aspect has been the interactions I have had with my clients. Being able to learn about their lives, to hear some of their stories, and to fight for successful outcomes in their legal cases has been one of the highlights of my time here at Harvard Law School.”

“One of my most valuable experiences at Harvard Law School has been working with the Estate Planning Project in the Veterans Legal Clinic. As a student attorney, my responsibilities included preparing for client meetings, interviewing clients, drafting documents, and preparing documents for execution.”

I have had a fantastic experience working with the … Clinic …. Arguing [an appellate case in federal court] was the highlight of my experience at HLS….

Successfully representing my LSC client in an appeal “was unquestionably my most meaningful experience in law school.

“I am proud that I could transform [my client’s] life for the better and am still amazed at the life-transforming responsibility that the Veterans Law clinic places in its student attorneys.”

Preparing for the appeal hearing and then representing my client at the hearing were my “most formative and rewarding experiences at Harvard Law School.”

“From the moment I started in the Safety Net Project, I sensed LSC’s ‘do what it takes’ attitude toward client service, reflecting lawyers’ two-part role as both legal counselors and general advisors. I therefore especially appreciated this chance for guided practice in the whole spectrum of services that attorneys must know how to offer, an opportunity uniquely available in the Veterans’ Clinic and Safety Net Project.”

“[I] wanted to do legal services work during law school, learn more about litigation, and work directly with clients. The Veterans Legal Clinic was the perfect opportunity.”

I think it’s incredible [what] we actually did, as a bunch of law students, change VA policy. That’s one of the proudest things I can say I’ve done, not only in law school but in life up to this point. A bunch of 20-somethings came together and we changed policy for veterans….”

“This past [fall], I enrolled in the Estate Planning Project, with the Veteran’s Legal Clinic. My work with that clinic turned out to be one of the most valuable, and absolutely the most rewarding experience of my academic career.”

“Working on [my clinic] case was the most terrifying and rewarding thing I’ve done while at Harvard. I am so grateful to the Veterans Legal Clinic for giving me this opportunity and for providing me the training I needed to feel confident in federal court. It was truly an honor to represent the proposed class of disabled veterans, and it’s an experience I will never forget.”

“I will always remember that I am standing on the shoulder of giants — and my giants are my clients. They have taught me so much resilience, patience, and kindness that I am so humbled to learn from them.”

“Working on this case for my client … was by far the most impactful experience in my time at HLS… Through a year of working on the case, and two levels of appeal, I gained the most practical legal training of my law school experience. I got to develop legal arguments, do the research to back those arguments up, and finally put those arguments on paper through multiple rounds of brief writing that would eventually be submitted to federal court. I learned as much doctrine as I did practical lawyering skills, and I experienced as much abstract litigation strategy as I did hands-on negotiation with opposing counsel. This case was a truly all-inclusive experience.”

In this Office of Clinical and Pro Bono Programs blog postAnthony Pericolo ‘23 discusses his representation of an older veteran whose veterans benefits had been unlawfully terminated Anthony explains in the post that his work on behalf of this veteran provided his most formative and rewarding experiences at Harvard Law School” and helped the client realize a measure of justice. 

Two Veterans – One an LSC Student and the Other a Client Battling Homelessness – Help Each Other in Surprising Ways

Students in the Veterans Legal Clinic continue to secure critical victories for the veterans community

“The only place that I have learned these things is at LSC, and it is the thing that has reeled me back in for another semester”: LSC Students Reflect on the Value of an Advanced Clinical

For more information about the Clinic or to ask questions, please email Clinical Professor and Clinic Director Daniel Nagin at dnagin[at]

DAV Logo for WebsiteWe are grateful to the DAV Charitable Service Trust for its generous support of our legal services program for disabled veterans.

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