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Penn Law Veterans Alumni Association aims to provide civilian foxhole for veterans

November 11, 2021

The Penn Law Veterans Alumni Association (PLVAA) will provide a touchpoint for law students who are veterans as well as their loved ones.

As a pilot in the U.S. Air Force Reserves, Denny Shupe L’89 studied whenever and wherever he could. He cracked casebooks on cargo planes, on the base, and at home between overseas transport missions.

Shupe, who had a decidedly different law school experience than most of his classmates, retired in 1999 as a lieutenant colonel after 23 years of service. He has spent the years since working with veterans, including those at the Law School, to ease their transition to civilian life.

“As a military officer, I naturally slipped into an advisory and mentoring role with many of my classmates, just as I had with the junior officers and enlisted personnel with whom I had served,” said Shupe, a Senior Partner at Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis who returned to active duty for the Persian Gulf War during which he evacuated wounded soldiers and flew in weapons and personnel.

Now he’s using his hard-won experience to spearhead a new affinity group called the Penn Law Veterans Alumni Association (PLVAA), which he envisions as a platform for networking and solidarity at the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School.

Formulating the PLVAA’s goals

The PLVAA launched during alumni reunion week in May 2021 with a remote meeting attended by 35 veterans; leaders believe there are a few hundred prospects for the group.

“We’re looking to engage not only Law School veterans but also their spouses, students and alumni who have family members in the military, or just alumni who are generally interested in veterans’ issues,” said Shupe, President of the PLVAA. “We’re trying to cast a wide net.”

Aaron McKenney L’19, WG’19, who along with Frank Broomell L’19, is a Vice President of the Association, said the group, slowed by COVID, has been in the works for a couple years. He comes to the group after nine years of active service, having been deployed to Iraq, Uzbekistan, and Kuwait and served as a Green Beret in the U.S. Army.

While McKenney views the group as a vehicle for social interaction, he also touts a broader mission: advocacy. The PLVAA, he said, can educate the public on the rigors of military service and on the integration back into civilian life.

“Many in the public have difficulty understanding some of the pressures that veterans face,” said McKenney, an associate with Cooley LLP who specializes in mergers and acquisitions and venture capital deals. “I think there is a genuine care and interest but a gap in understanding in American society of what military families go through in particular. Most people offer a well-intentioned ‘Thank you for your service,’ but too often our military family members never really hear that. One of our roles in the PLVAA is to create greater awareness and understanding of this, which our non-military affiliated colleagues have been very grateful for.”

For example, he said, mental health is a major concern, exacerbated by veterans’ swift reintegration into society upon leaving the service. This is particularly acute now with the American military withdrawal from Afghanistan. McKenney said the association is exploring several health-related initiatives including sharing opportunities for members to provide legal pro bono legal services to veterans, holding quarterly meetings with small groups to share military experiences, and laying the groundwork to form a Veterans Law Clinic at the Law School.

Shupe is well-situated to lead this effort. He’s the former President of the USO of Pennsylvania and Southern New Jersey. The USO is a nonprofit organization that supports active duty, national guard, and reserve military members and their families. He’s also been a confidant to veterans at the Law School and Wharton.

Like McKenney, Shupe proposes an expansive mission for the new group. He’d like to bring an appellate court argument on a military issue to campus and go on the road to meet with and make presentations to Penn Law alumni veterans all over the country.

McKenney served as President of the Penn Law Veterans Club during his 3L year. The student group, which began in 2014, turned Veterans Day into Veterans Week with a slate of presentations and panel discussions and notable keynote speakers.

Fostering relationships with current students and alumni

Ryan Baldwin L’22, WG’22, a submarine officer in the U.S. Navy for eight years, is President of the 20-member Penn Law Veterans Club. The JD/MBA candidate said he’s working with Shupe to establish a mentorship program in which alumni veterans will guide younger students through the application process, the law school experience, and the job market.

Hannah Victor NU’17, L’18, GR’22 is eager to be involved as well.

“The military is an institution unlike any other. As I enter the legal market, it is comforting to know that other folks have successfully made the transition from military service to a career in law,” said Victor, a former U.S. Air Force clinical nurse who recently completed her three-year commitment and is sorting through her employment options. “I am looking forward to engaging with my veteran colleagues for their valuable perspectives and camaraderie.”

Learn more about alumni resources and staying involved with the Law School.