Maureen “Mo” Siedor grew up in the Midwest but spent several years on the East Coast pursuing both her undergraduate degree and law degree. For a long time, she knew she wanted to get a legal education and to use that education to help people living in poverty. In her spare time, she enjoys hiking, road trips, and spending time with her pit bull Goose.
Why did you decide to pursue public interest law? More specifically, what about veterans law interests you?
I knew that I wanted to work on social justice issues, but I wasn’t sure exactly in what capacity. After 9/11, I became a sort of news addict and I read as much as I could about politics, the wars, and international relations. The law permeates all of those areas and it’s relevant to so much going on in this country and the world. My interest in law and political issues informed what I studied in college and made the decision to go to law school an easy one. This, coupled with my interest in helping others and working on social justice issues, made public interest legal work a natural fit.
With regards to veterans law specifically, it’s incredibly important that we – as advocates – focus on the most vulnerable. Vets issues get a lot of attention. But less focus is paid to vets with less than honorable discharges, vets who are struggling with substance abuse, and vets who are living on the streets. Working with these clients is incredibly rewarding and navigating the VA benefits system is very interesting legal work. I most enjoy working on military sexual trauma cases because winning those cases can be so validating for clients. I’m thrilled to do anything I can to help rape survivors heal and get them the benefits they deserve.
How did you hear about ICLC? What made you want to work here?
I first heard about the veterans work at ICLC from meeting Kara Mahoney – an ICLC attorney – at a training a couple years ago. I had done veterans benefits work in my last position and I was excited to continue this work at ICLC, especially amongst attorneys who do other types of legal work like housing and social security work since that helps us provide holistic legal services to our clients.
You see and hear a lot of things come through your desk and office every day. A new client, a new story, a new case to solve. What keeps you motivated to do the work you do?
Despite my many frustrations with the VA, the reality is that the VA provides an immense amount of resources to those who can access it. The disability compensation benefits are incredibly valuable and the healthcare and social services can be life changing. The problem is that many veterans are unfairly turned away from the VA. A lot of the work we do at ICLC is to advocate for veterans who’ve been shut out. Knowing that getting them VA eligibility could change the trajectory of their life for the better keeps me at this day in and day out.
What is one of your greatest accomplishments here at ICLC?
With my colleague Melody Osuna, we recently started the Veterans Law Quarterly Roundtable, a meeting of local veterans law attorneys. It’s an opportunity to collaborate, brainstorm and develop best practices in order to best support the homeless and low-income veterans of Los Angeles. At each Roundtable we provide updates on VA Benefits law, give mini-trainings in specialized benefits issues, and allow attendees the opportunity to brainstorm cases with the group. It’s been exciting to help build up this community of vets advocates!
What advice do you have for aspiring ICLC attorneys?
Understand that we have more in common with our clients than we may think. I get the sense that volunteers or attorneys are intimidated by working with homeless or vulnerable clients because they see them as so different from us. But that’s not the reality, at least in my experience. Don’t let fear be the reason you don’t get involved.