More than 100 students, faculty, and veterans gathered on Veterans Day, Nov. 11, at the Law School to celebrate the creation of a new Veterans' Benefits Clinic to assist veterans with the filing, adjudication and appeal of service-related disability compensation claims. The clinic is the first service learning project of the Virginia Commonwealth University - William & Mary Health Policy and Law Initiative. W&M students and faculty will help veterans with their legal needs while students and faculty at VCU's Center for Psychological Services and Development will provide assessment, counseling and referrals to veterans in need of those services.
In her welcoming remarks, interim Dean Lynda L. Butler said that the clinic is believed to be the first interdisciplinary approach to veterans' services in the country. The need for the clinic in Virginia is particularly compelling, she said, as the Commonwealth is home to 28 military bases, six of which have medical facilities. The Law School, said Butler, "can think of no better way to honor those who have served than by assisting them when they return home, especially those who return as wounded warriors."
Butler introduced "those whose leadership and support helped bring this clinic to life," among them Professor Larry Palmer, Director of the VCU - W&M Health Policy and Law Initiative; Helen Shepard, the Initiative's Operations Manager; Dr. Leticia Flores, Director of the VCU Center for Psychological Services and Development; Professor Patricia Roberts, Director of W&M Clinical Programs; and W&M Provost P. Geoffrey Feiss. The Dean added that McGuireWoods was the first law firm to commit resources to the clinic. Their lawyers will accept referrals from the clinic, staff intake and assist with screening as necessary, and the firm will make their conference rooms available for meetings with clinic clients unable to travel to Williamsburg. In addition, McGuireWoods Consulting will assist the clinic in reviewing, drafting and proposing state and federal legislation affecting the disabled veteran population and the benefits to which they are entitled.
The clinic will open in mid-January and will be staffed by eight law students working under the supervision of two adjunct law professors, Stacey-Rae Simcox and Mark D. Matthews. Simcox and Matthews met while earning their law degrees at William & Mary and married a year after their 1999 graduation. Both are veterans who served in the U.S. Army Judge Advocate General's Corps.
Roberts thanked the Dean for "her dedication to seeing this clinic succeed," and acknowledged the support of the faculty, in particular Professor Fredric Lederer, and the Center for Legal and Court Technology. She said Simcox was "the spark" behind the clinic's creation, noting that Simcox had come forward a little over a year ago seeking a way to "give something back to our servicemen and women." Simcox's and Matthews' work, Roberts said, "in planning this clinic from scratch, coordinating with Dr. Flores at VCU, undertaking clients before students were even registered, and their expertise from their military service and own experiences, have been extraordinary."
Following Roberts' remarks, Butler presented a "care package" of snacks and food items assembled by clinic staff to Joelle Laszlo '09, Vice President of the Military Law Society. This contribution, along with others collected during a Veterans Day drive by the Society, were sent to First Lieutenant Jenna Grassbaugh and her fellow troops in Iraq. Grassbaugh was a 1L at the Law School when her husband was killed in action in 2007. She now serves in the 82nd Airborne, the same division in which her husband served.
In keeping with the commemorations of the day, the ceremony closed with a traditional toast to the fallen led by Military Law Society President Joshua Wolff '10.
Press release announcing Nov. 11 clinic celebration
Veterans or their families interested in learning more about assistance offered by the Veterans' Benefits Clinic may call (757)221-3780 or may write to firstname.lastname@example.org.