What is the Servicemembers and Veterans Legal Assistance Project (SVLAP)?
SVLAP is a student pro bono organization that seeks to provide Philadelphia’s veterans and servicemembers with legal resources and information, and to facilitate representation of these individuals in their civil legal matters. SVLAP was founded in the Spring of 2011, when Class of 2013 students Alisan VanFleet, Melissa Krain, Rachel Levick, and Max Rosenberg began searching for ways in which Penn Law students could volunteer to serve the Philadelphia veteran community. With help and supervision from the Toll Public Interest Center (TPIC), SVLAP has grown to include over 20 student volunteers and serves local veterans through a number of volunteer projects.
What does SVLAP’s do to assist veterans and soldiers?
Our primary project is a partnership with the Philadelphia Veterans Court, a part of Philadelphia Municipal Court, and the Military Assistance Program (MAP), a branch of the Philadelphia Bar Association. SVLAP volunteers attend Veterans Court each week, assisting the Court with intake by interviewing and documenting the veterans present before the Court. SVLAP volunteers also provide veterans with legal resources on a number of civil legal issues, including landlord-tenant disputes, traffic court, child support and custody concerns, and housing information.
SVLAP has also been working on a research project for a local veterans organization whose goal is to introduce legislation in Pennsylvania that will require judges to take into consideration a veteran’s service and combat history during sentencing. A number of our volunteers have conducted discrete research assignments that will be compiled into a comprehensive report to provide the organization with background information as they pursue their ultimate goal of legislative reform.
What has been SVLAP’s greatest success so far?
In honor of Veterans Day, SVLAP organized a lecture by the Honorable Patrick F. Dugan, a Philadelphia Municipal Court Judge who helped to create the Philadelphia Veterans Court. Judge Dugan spoke about his own experiences as a member of the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division and his work with Philadelphia veterans through Veterans Court. The event, which was attended by more than 40 students, was coupled with a bake sale that raised more than $350 to buy care packages for soldiers stationed overseas during the holiday season. This event was a significant success for SVLAP, and we look forward to hosting an annual event in honor of Veterans Day in the future.