Law Faculty Brief Congressional Committee on Clinic's Work with Veterans

  • Serving Veterans
    Serving Veterans  The first clinic of its kind in the nation, the Puller Clinic helps with both the legal claims for benefits and the psychological and other underlying difficulties experienced by veterans and service members.  
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Two members of the William & Mary Law School faculty, Patricia E. Roberts and Stacey-Rae Simcox, traveled to Washington on April 24 at the invitation of the Advisory Committee on Disability Compensation to brief its members on the work of William & Mary Law School's Lewis B. Puller, Jr. Veterans Benefits Clinic.

Congress established this Advisory Committee in 2008  "to advise the [Veterans Administration] Secretary with respect to the maintenance and periodic readjustment of the VA schedule for rating veteran disabilities."  The committee also heard from Dr. Leticia Flores of the Virginia Commonwealth University Center for Psychological Services and Development, which works in tandem with the Puller Clinic to serve veterans.

Roberts, who serves as Director of Clinical Programs at the Law School, told the committee of the impetus and history of the Puller Clinic, explaining that the managing partners, Professor Simcox and Professor Mark Matthews, both graduates of William & Mary Law School, were themselves former JAG officers who found the benefit claims process extraordinarily difficult to navigate.

"Since its inception, the Puller Clinic has trained nearly 100 law and psychology students in the intricacies of the benefit claims process," Roberts said, "and instilled in them a sense of responsibility for meeting the commitment that our nation made to its veterans."  She noted that the partnership with the VCU Center for Psychological Services and Development allows the Puller Clinic to serve veterans holistically by addressing both their legal and psychological needs.  In addition, she explained how the Clinic's work inspired William & Mary's creation of the Helping Military Veterans through Higher Education Consortium.  This consortium draws on the resources of colleges and universities across Virginia to help veterans in a variety of different ways.

In an interview following the briefing, Roberts praised the efforts of two Law School alumni, Chris DeLacy of Holland & Knight and Doug Dziak of Nixon Peabody, "who have been instrumental in aiding the clinic's efforts to share our story with leaders in Washington."

During the briefing Simcox explained how the clinic aids injured veterans through education and outreach, direct legal representation in benefit claims, discharge upgrades, and physical and medical evaluation boards. Flores provided detailed information about the comprehensive psychological evaluations her faculty supervisors and students administer to Puller Clinic clients.

As Director of Clinical Programs at William & Mary Law School, Roberts has been responsible for the development of new clinic initiatives including the Puller Clinic, which accepted its first client in fall 2008.  She also led the effort to establish the Helping Veterans through Higher Education consortium.  In addition to directing the Law School's Special Education Advocacy Clinic, she oversees five additional clinics, with a new Elder Law Clinic beginning in fall 2012. She recently was appointed Chair of the Association of American Law Schools Interdisciplinary Clinical Committee.

Simcox is the Managing Attorney of the Puller Clinic and teaches courses on veterans benefits law.  She served for eight years in the U.S. Army Judge Advocate General's Corps on active duty and in the U.S. Army Reserves, attaining the rank of major.  She is co-author (with Leticia Flores and Mark Matthews) of a book chapter titled "Massing Fire on TBI and PTSD: The Importance of Working with Medical and Mental Health Professionals" (in B. Clauss & J. Butler (eds.), Servicemember and Veterans Rights (Vol. 1) (2011).  This summer, Simcox and Flores will make a presentation about the Puller Clinic at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association.