Berkeley Law’s Veterans Law Practicum, or VLP, dedicates itself to achieving better healthcare for exiled veterans while preventing veteran deportations and reducing convictions stemming from mental health conditions.
The VLP is a course that focuses on social injustice within the U.S military. The program, led by campus law lecturer and VLP Director Rose Carmen Goldberg, introduces students to the impact of the justice system on veterans and equips them with “substantive knowledge and lawyering skills.”
“All too often, veterans are deported consequent to criminal convictions stemming from mental health conditions they incurred during military service,” Goldberg said in an email. “After being incarcerated for behaviors stemming from trauma, they face the second punishment of exile. These veterans deserve support — not banishment and separation from their families.”
VLP focused its attention on the deportation of veterans in August, following monthly meetings where they discussed various strategies for bringing deported veterans back into the United States, according to campus law student Matthew Sardo, who serves as a major in the U.S. Army Reserve.
Consisting of five students, VLP often works with nonprofit organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union and Repatriate Our Patriots. The practicum often receives aid in their legal work surrounding social justice and veterans advocacy.
“Unfortunately, the issue that’s happening is that people are being deported and denied services and are being treated as though they’re other,” said campus law student Joseph St. Clair. “They’re being treated as other foreigners — as if they don’t belong here — and I think that just doesn’t really jive with our national values.”
VLP thoroughly researched the humanitarian parole program overseen by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which covers urgent and temporary returns to the U.S. for veterans in need of medical care. In attempting to make healthcare more accessible to veterans, the students in the practicum are providing recommendations with an emphasis on mental health, according to Goldberg.
By the end of fall 2022, the practicum hopes to spread awareness about the deportation of veterans by publishing an advocacy paper that will be widely distributed. Sardo noted that the paper will address the problem and the specific ways it can be fixed.
St. Clair echoed this sentiment and added that he wants to put pressure on local districts by campaigning for veterans’ rights and spreading awareness at the local and state level.
“It’s so frustrating because it’s like Whac-A-Mole,” St. Clair said. “We’re doing this case by case by case by case, but the real problems are systemic all the way and it just feels like there’s competing interests at the end of day.”