After graduating from Millikin in 1979, I earned my law degree and proceeded to work in Chicago, continuing to live in Oak Park, Ill., where I had grown up. I led a steady life. I worked at a law firm for a number of years and then decided to go solo. I certainly believed I would spend the rest of my career and life in the Chicago area except when I needed a Winery burger fix and returned to Millikin for Homecoming.
Change came around 2007 when the famines started outweighing the feasts as far as my practice was concerned. I started looking for more steady work and decided to consider the federal government. I still expected to remain in Chicago. In April 2008, I interviewed with the Board of Veterans’ Appeals, part of the Department of Veterans Affairs in Washington, D.C. They offered me a position, and I accepted. Needless to say, I experienced a whole range of emotions. Until then, I had lived my entire life in Illinois, and now I was moving to a whole new part of the country. I gave myself 90 days to move everything from Chicago to Washington, D.C., thinking it would be enough time. It was, barely. The movers had already left when I drove off with a packed car, including two cats who moved with me under protest.
My new job involves helping veteran law judges review internal department administrative appeals when veterans are denied or otherwise unhappy with the determination by a regional office. We review the regional office’s actions to ensure they did everything correct procedurally, confirm that the veteran had every chance to prove his or her claim and determine if the regional office made the right call. After my level, the regular courts become involved. I quickly discovered I had made the right move in accepting the job. I find the work interesting, and everyone I work with by russell veldenz ’79 is very friendly. Of course, it is also nice that we have a common mission – serving the veterans who served our country. As the department mission statement says (taken from President Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address), we “care for those who have borne the battle, and their widows and their orphans.”
Years ago, I had said that if there was any city I could move to easily, it would be Washington, D.C. It turns out I was right. When I first started, I worked off a corner of Lafayette Park. I could see the White House from our conference room. They have moved us out of the building to renovate it, and for the foreseeable future, I am working in the Gallery Place/Chinatown area, known as a “hot area.” I have not, after four years here, become jaded. I still get a thrill when I see some of the well-known buildings such as the White House or when I am held up by a presidential motorcade. (Why does that never happen when I am on time or early?)
I am also enjoying what this city has to offer. In addition to the Smithsonian museums, National Archives and Library of Congress, I have visited many great private museums and been to the National Geographic Museum several times to view the special exhibits. The diversity of ethnic restaurants is amazing. At one small shopping center near where I live, you can find Italian, Japanese, Thai, Vietnamese, Indonesian, Middle Eastern and something called Subway. Korean, Salvadoran, Peruvian and Ethiopian food is not hard to find, either. In a way, I was given the unexpected gift of being able to start my life over, and I am trying to make the most of it. And I am still able to travel back to Illinois for my Winery burger fix.
Russell Veldenz '79 of Alexandria, VA, graduated from John Marshall Law School in 1982 and is admitted to practice in Illinois and all federal court levels.