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UGA Law Opens Clinic for Veterans
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Summary: The University of Georgia School of Law has opened a free clinic for veterans needing assistance in filing claims for pension and compensation.

A Veterans Legal Clinic has opened at the University of Georgia School of Law. The law school has been developing a clinic that can provide free legal assistance for veterans in Georgia for six years, according to The Atlantic Journal-Constitution.

  
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The goal of the clinic is to assist veterans in navigating the complex system of filing claims for things such as pension and compensation for service-related disabilities. The clinic is run by Professor Alex Scherr, who has directed civil clinics at the law school since 1996, and three law students. Since its opening on May 29, they have received a lot of interest with about 20 cases already opened. They will accept cases from veterans all across the country.

The three students selected to participate will receive class credit in addition to practical legal experience. Students Tyler Mathis and Chase Keith just finished their first year of law school and Megan McDonough finished her second year. Keith served with the Army for eight years and McDonough participates in the university’s ROTC program and will commission into the Air Force with the Judge Advocate Generals Corps. The students spend around 40 hours a week at the clinic interviewing veterans and building the cases.

Keith explained, “Since I got out, I knew I always wanted to stay connected to the veteran community somehow. And when I saw that the clinic was starting, I knew that this would be a great way to not only keep that connection with the community, but also to be able to do some good for the community.”

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Come fall, the clinic will grow to have seven students and a postgraduate law fellow assisting. For the first few years, the clinic will focus on benefits from Veterans Affairs like pensions and compensation due to disabilities received in service.

Scherr said, “It was clear once we started talking to people that the community surrounding Athens and the state as a whole strongly encouraged us to take these tasks on.”



The Georgia Bar has a Military Legal Assistance Program that connects veterans to lawyers in Georgia that can help them for free or at a reduced cost. The current director, Christopher Pitts, said, “With claims’ processing times as they are, some veterans can wait more than five years before receiving a decision. This new clinic will help the program connect more veterans with attorneys in order to meet there legal needs.”

The clinic does not deal with any other civil legal needs such as housing or family issues but will likely be able to point clients toward educational resources and other networks to assist them with those needs. The clinic is specifically targeting veterans in Athens and the 15 surrounding counties where statistics show that around 50,000 are living in mostly rural areas.

The big challenge Scherr sees is the timeframe of when the incidents requiring claims occurred. He stated, “Right now, if I was looking at the pool of cases we have, the average length of time since the occurrence of events during the military is two or three decades. So what that means is you’re often digging back deep into people’s memories, into record that may or may not exist.”

The students will always be supervised by Scherr but will be doing the work, some of which will require hunting down records. Scherr explained, “I am really interested in working with students who want to use the clinical experience as a way of developing their identities as lawyers, their professional identities. We are not just creating a law practice that serves veterans. We are creating a clinical legal education course.”

He added, “I think it’s safe to say most students put at least as much as they need to, if not more, into the clinic. The cases are compelling. The work is very intense. They love to do it.”

To learn more about other law schools with clinics for veterans, read these articles:

Photo: pittsburgh.afrc.af.mil



 

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