Judge Jeffrey Parker: Don’t be afraid of things going in a different direction

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Jeffrey Parker, a veterans law judge and a 1984 manga cum laude graduate of Campbell University, will present a lecture at Campbell on March 26 entitled “Government by the People: The Calling, Rewards and Challenges of Serving Veterans.”  Parker’s lecture is open to the public and will begin at 7:30 p.m. in the Harris Teeter Auditorium in Maddox Hall. It’s part of the Barden Lecture Forum series that Campbell’s Department of History, Criminal Justice and Political Science hosts. 

Parker was appointed by President Barack Obama in March 2011 as the veterans law judge with the Board of Veterans’ Appeals, an agency of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. His duties include conducting hearings at offices across the U.S. and in the Philippines and ruling on veterans’ disability benefits claims appeals and related motions.

He first joined the Board of Veterans’ Appeals in 1995. His previous positions there were as counsel and senior counsel, which included conducting continuing legal education training for agency attorneys. Previously, Parker served as a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy Judge Advocate General’s Corps from 1988 to 1991.

Parker received his bachelor’s in government/pre-law from Campbell in 1984, and went on to earn a law degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1987. He also completed two years of graduate studies at the Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary from 1992 to 1994.

We Are Campbell spoke with Judge Parker about his experience and his background with working with veterans.*

What led you to law school?

I was a Campbell undergraduate in government and prelaw. I knew that I wanted to go to law school; that was my original ambition. From there, it was an easy decision to enroll in law school.

How did you end up practicing law with the U.S. Navy?

The Navy was recruiting at the law school. The big draw for the Navy was the immediate experience, which is really what I wanted. I went to the Navy Justice School. You do every duty for six months or a year, and then you’re in the courtroom as a defense lawyer. From there, I was put on a ship for six months as the only lawyer for 1,200 service members. The law job I had in the Navy was for the disabled service members, as a military version of what Veterans Affairs does. Working with these service members was the segue into Veterans Affairs.

How did assisting veterans become your calling?

After working for the Navy I went to the Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, but I wasn’t sure what degree to even pursue. I wanted to do something meaningful, and maybe even spiritual, with my career. But then I asked myself, “What’s so unspiritual about law?” I do believe God is calling people to secular professions to do great work there, helping people in the broadest sense. I started applying to different jobs and one of them was with Veterans Affairs.

What are the challenges and rewards that accompany your job?

It’s hard work. We’re dealing with all kinds of people — some grateful, some not, some with disabilities, some who have had very bad experiences with Veterans Affairs. It’s tough, in that sense. It’s hard to deal with the emotions and to show them I’m listening and I care. But if I do my job well, if I really pick up on what they’re telling me, often I can indicate the right decision. There have been a handful of cases that I know that because I was engaged with and listening and paying attention to, I can correct something that might not have been picked up on.

What would do you hope students learn from you?

Very few people know looking forward what they’re going to be doing with their career. Most people instead look back and see the pieces falling into place behind them. What is your calling and your mission? We’re all, whatever we do, called to do something. Are you doing what you’re meant to be? Are you in a place where you should be? Don’t be afraid of things going in a different direction. — By Rachel Davis

*The views expressed in the article are those of Mr. Parker and do not necessarily represent those of the U.S. Government, including the Department of VA, the Board of Veterans’ Appeals, and the Navy JAG Corps.

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