By Heidi Murphy and Aaron Hale/UGA Today
Improving the lives of veterans living in the Peach State is the goal of the University of Georgia School of Law’s Veterans Legal Clinic. The impact of this 18-month-old clinic is real and growing.
Early this year, the clinic had an active caseload representing around 25 veterans at one time. Since April, the clinic has secured over $230,000 in additional financial relief for former members of our country’s military.
By all accounts, this impact will grow exponentially due to the Veterans Legal Clinic adding a full-time attorney in August to help clinic Director Alexander Scherr manage cases and supervise students.
“With the addition of Kelly Parker, who comes to us from the West Virginia University Veterans Advocacy Law Clinic, we have doubled the number of active cases handled by our clinic and law students,” Scherr said.
“We receive two to three new calls each week from veterans across the state,” he said. “We evaluate each call based on our goal to help as many veterans as possible while maintaining our commitment to train law students to handle administrative law cases effectively.”
The Veterans Legal Clinic is funded by a lead gift from renowned trial attorney and 1977 law school alumnus James E. “Jim” Butler Jr., who also supports the school’s Butler Commitment that guarantees aid for 2019 and 2020 law school matriculants.
The clinic is a great opportunity for students to work directly with clients and learn how to practice law with close supervision, according to Scherr. “Plus, they get to work on cases that really matter. I am pleased that student interest in the clinic remains strong and that we have a waiting list for the 12 available student positions this coming spring,” he said.
One of the clinic’s clients is Richard Stafford, who served in Vietnam and decades later was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, a disease associated with exposure to Agent Orange (a tactical herbicide used by U.S. forces in Vietnam during his service). The disease has limited Stafford’s mobility in both legs. He says he can barely walk 100 yards without having to stop to rest and ease the severe pain in his feet.
Stafford was looking for full disability compensation, which the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs had denied. He needed the clinic’s help to gather medical evidence and make his argument to appeal that denial.
“It gets very involved for a layman to put a case together,” Stafford said, adding that the law students worked diligently to put his appeal together.
Their assistance persuaded the Veterans Administration to grant Stafford 100% disability, which increased his monthly income, led to a significant retroactive award and allowed his son to attend college using Stafford’s GI Bill benefits.
Specializing in deferred or denied claims before the Department of Veterans Affairs, the clinic provides veterans in Georgia with legal assistance that they might not otherwise obtain or be able to afford. Individuals seeking help from the clinic can call 706-542-6439 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
For the cases not accepted by the Veterans Legal Clinic, Scherr said the clinic offers a wide network of referrals, including a pool of attorneys to whom they can refer clients.
The clinic has also helped to organize a coalition of stakeholders at UGA to identify university initiatives that can help veterans and communities around the state with a variety of needs.