Austin lawyer Eric Marfin (pictured) says Veterans Day celebrations this week have a special significance for him because he’s doing work that he loves: helping veterans upgrade their military discharges so they have better access to job opportunities and veterans’ benefits.
Marfin began working earlier this year as a temporary contract attorney with the Texas Veterans Legal Assistance Project of the Texas Legal Services Center (TLSC) in Austin. He applied for a one-year fellowship so the TLSC could keep him on staff through August 2013 and he could continue working with veterans.
“This was a chance for me to work with people that reminded me of my own family and the sacrifice I saw my own family members make and continue to make,” says the 2011 graduate of Notre Dame Law School and Sugar Land native. “It was a chance to give back to the community. It was an area of law where I saw that help was needed.”
Marfin is one of 40 lawyers in the 2012 class of Equal Justice Works AmeriCorps legal fellows nationwide who began their fellowships this fall. The TLSC pays half of Marfin’s salary, and AmeriCorps, a federal program created by the National and Community Service Trust Act of 1993, provides the other half, he says.
Marfin works with former enlisted service personnel who didn’t receive an honorable discharge (the best level of discharge) for a variety of reasons, including medical issues. Any discharge other than honorable can make it harder for a veteran to get a job or military benefits, he says.
“We evaluate all active duty records and medical records and examine them to see if a veteran is a good candidate for an upgrade; and if they are, we make an argument based on those records,” Marfin says. The argument for a discharge upgrade is made to a military review board or a board for the correction of military records, he says.
Each service has its own boards and protocols, and the complicated upgrade process can be confusing to a non-attorney, he says.
“It’s really a chance to develop the veterans’ narrative and contextualize the veterans’ actions . . . one of the things I love the most is: I get to know my clients in a very personal way,” he says. “Getting to work with veterans made this Veterans Day one I don’t think I will ever forget.”
— Jeanne Graham