Professor Martin Parsons speaks with WSIL about the VetLAMP program which will assist veterans in claiming disability benefits

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Professor Martin Parsons speaks with WSIL about the VetLAMP program which will assist veterans in claiming disability benefits

November 12, 2019, By Daniel Valle, Producer

WSIL-TV 3 Southern Illinois

CARBONDALE (WSIL) -- On top of a bookshelf deep inside the Lesar Law Building at SIU's School of Law lies a helmet and utility belt used in World War I.

Martin Parsons says the helmet belonged to his grandfather. The items barely scratch the surface of the military history of Parsons' family.

"My father served during the Vietnam era as well, in the army," Parsons said.

Parsons followed family tradition, joining the Marines in 1982 for four years before going back to college and joining the Illinois Army National Guard. He retired after 22 years, finishing his career as a master sergeant.

These days, however, he's leading a different battle, one for veterans and their disability benefits claims.

"By the amount of claims that are in the system, it can take a year or two years for an appeal to come back one way or another," Parsons said.

Parsons is the director of the Veterans' Legal Assistance Program where he and his students sift through veterans' medical records to try and strengthen a veteran's appeal case.

The only problem, Parsons says, was his students weren't familiar with much of the medical terminology. So with help from the SIU School of Medicine, a new program called the Veterans Legal and Medical Partnership (VetLAMP) was formed.

"It will save us time because myself and my students won't have to review those medical records," Parsons said. "We can focus on doing the legal things that we need to do."

Parsons says nearly 50 veterans from all over Illinois have brought their cases to the program to get an extra look. He hopes to have more orientation seminars for students at both schools.

Army veteran Shawn Virden has struggled for years trying to get benefits after being injured overseas. He says there are plenty of veterans who get discouraged at the lengthy applying process.

"A lot of veterans they finally just give up. They quit," Virden said. "They just can't handle all the stress from trying to apply for benefits that you should have."

Virden hopes that the VetLAMP program at SIU takes off, but in the meantime he says veterans need to look to each other for support.

"Find a VFW, find an American Legion, find someone to help you with all the paperwork. They will help you."