Allen Martin

The Project

Allen (he/him/his) will mitigate veteran homelessness in rural Central Texas by implementing a Medical-Legal Partnership at a VA Clinic to meet legal needs related to housing, discharge upgrades, and financial and familial stability.

Many rural veterans in Central Texas face the risk of homelessness, struggling to meet needs associated with food, housing, and financial security, among others. These needs directly cause health issues and prevent veterans from maintaining their health, such as attending regular check-ups. A Medical-Legal Partnership with a rural VA Clinic will bring legal services to rural veterans to improve their health by addressing their health-harming legal needs. In doing so, the Medical-Legal Partnership will mitigate veteran homelessness.

Allen’s commitment to increasing access to justice for Texans drives him to advocate for underserved populations, including low-income rural veterans.

Fellowship Plans

During his Fellowship, Allen will screen veteran patients for health-harming legal needs and provide legal services at the VA Clinic. Additionally, he will provide Know Your Rights seminars for the veterans, conduct trainings on recognizing health-harming legal needs for VA staff, and collaborate with community service organizations to maximize the positive impact on veterans’ legal and physical health.

As a family member of medical professionals, I feel strongly about closing the justice gap at the intersection of health and law for underserved rural veterans, who themselves have committed their lives to service of others.

Allen Martin /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Zach (he/him/his) will create a national pro bono network to provide legal assistance for traumatically-injured military service members who are denied recovery benefits. He will engage in community lawyering and systemic advocacy to increase access to financial assistance for these service members.

Military service members recovering from traumatic injuries often incur significant financial expenses, requiring medical services, rehabilitation, and caregiving as they recover. Many turn to the Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance Traumatic Injury Program (TSGLI) for aid, which was established by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the Department of Defense (DoD) to provide rapid, short-term financial assistance to these service members. However, applicants for TSGLI are frequently denied access to this benefit. Subsequently, traumatically injured service members are often left to pay for their recovery out of pocket, placing them at risk of incurring financial debt or falling into poverty.

Fellowship Plans

Through the National Veterans Legal Services Program (NVLSP)’s Lawyers Serving Warriors® (LSW) program, Zach will create the first-of-its-kind national pro bono network for legal assistance with TSGLI claims and appeals. He will train pro bono attorneys on TSGLI claim representation, place claimants seeking assistance with these volunteers, and mentor pro bono advocates as they assist TSGLI claimants. Zach will also employ a community lawyering model to reach traumatically injured service members by conducting Know-Your-Rights presentations, developing educational resources on TSGLI applications, and hosting legal clinics for TSGLI claim assistance. He will also increase access to TSGLI benefits by using administrative and legislative avenues to engage in systemic advocacy.

As a survivor of trauma and a family member to six Army veterans, I know firsthand the difficulties of healing from trauma and how acute those difficulties can be for our nation’s veterans. That lived experience has motivated me to fight disabled poverty in traumatically injured servicemembers and empower them as they heal.

Zach Outzen /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Jonathan (Jon) (he/him/his) will advocate for the repatriation of deported veterans through direct representation, policy reform, and coalition building.

For over 200 years, the United States has promised immigrant service members an expedited path to citizenship in exchange for their sacrifices. Yet for decades, the U.S. has failed to provide these service members with the citizenship they are due. As a result, hundreds of veterans were left subject to deportation and banished forever from their families and the country they fought to protect. Deported veterans are owed the opportunity to return home and reform that ensures service members can naturalize and no veterans are deported moving forward.

Fellowship Plans

During his Fellowship, Jon will represent individual veterans’ repatriation claims to vacate their deportation orders and reinstate their legal residency. Through this, he will push for legal reform at the state and federal levels to increase access to repatriation for other deported veterans. In addition, he will help build a coalition of veterans’ and immigrants’ rights activists, legal service providers, and deported veterans themselves. This coalition will support the needs of deported veterans up to and after their repatriation. Additionally, Jonathan will work with this coalition to push the DHS to adopt policies that prevent future veteran deportations and ensure that immigrant service members can naturalize.

As the child of Mexican immigrants, I am proud to stand with this community. Deported veterans fought for this country and for their right to repatriate—we owe it to them to finally bring them home.

Jonathan Contreras /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Matthew’s  (he/him/his) project utilizes investigation, litigation, and advocacy to compel the military to stop wrongfully denying medical retirement benefits to qualifying veterans.

After two decades at war, many of the 200,000 veterans discharged each year bear more than the physical wounds of war. They also exhibit the invisible “signature wounds” of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan— mental health conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury (TBI). Wounded and ill service members who are unable to serve due to their disabilities are entitled to processing for military retirement. But each year, the military declines to medically retire thousands of servicemembers with serious physical and mental health conditions. Instead, these service members are discharged without proper processing and rating for their disabilities. Comprehensive policy reform is needed to change how the military treats wounded veterans.

Fellowship Plans

During his Fellowship, Matthew will identify veterans who should have been medically retired and work with the National Veterans Legal Services Program (NVLSP)’s pro bono partners to bring retroactive medical retirement claims. He will also conduct factual investigations of the Department of Defense (DoD)’s current policies, identify systemic issues, and bring impact litigation to facilitate systematic reform. He will create a White Paper identifying systemic problems with the DoD’s current policies governing medical retirements and use this to advocate for new DoD regulations or legislation requiring consistent and equitable evaluation of all potentially eligible servicemembers for medical retirement.

When I was a soldier, I swore to never leave a fallen comrade. Now, as a veteran, I plan to fulfill that oath by using my skills as a lawyer to help my comrades obtain the benefits they have earned.

Matthew Handley /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Janeille (she/her/hers) will advocate for the veteran population in and around Marion County, Florida, to offer an accessible and holistic legal experience that tackles their housing insecurity, family instability, reemployment ventures, military sexual trauma, and other civil law issues.

Almost one-quarter of all veterans in the United States return from active military careers to rural communities. They face higher poverty rates, fewer housing options, less access to technology and affordable healthcare, as well as many other legal and social issues. The veteran population is also uniquely affected by physical and mental afflictions due to their service to this country, compounding the unfavorable situations they often face when they return home.  This project will bring services to rural veterans through holistic legal services, education, and partnerships in the veterans’ local areas.

Through the hard work, determination, supportive words, and actions, Janeille rose above her situation’s limitations. She went to law school to save the world one community at a time, and her journey has begun.

Fellowship Plans

Janeille will offer holistic direct civil legal assistance to the veteran population. She will create sustainable partnerships with community leaders and organizations to offer assistance and build trust with the veteran population. Additionally, Janeille will develop an educational outreach initiative called “Access to Resources,” which will be geared towards increasing accessibility and empowering veterans who may feel overlooked and powerless in connection with their rights and benefits.

Media

2021 Greenberg Traurig Equal Justice Works Law Fellows to Tackle Racial, Economic, and Social Justice Issues

There is a saying where I'm from, ‘Those who feels it, knows it.’ I know what it is like to feel powerless in a ‘dead-end situation,’ but I was able to grow beyond it because of the support of many, so now it's my turn to support those who feel powerless.

Janeille McPhail /
2021 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Scott (he/him/his) will serve those who served by providing direct representation and access to legal services for veterans and their families.

He will serve the more than 10,000 veterans in the Tuscaloosa County area, where the veteran homeless rate is around 10% and the unemployment rate is more than double the state average. Veterans face many legal issues including evictions, foreclosures, family law, consumer debt, discharge upgrades, and VA disability appeals claims. 

Over the course of 20 years of service in the Army, Scott served as an enlisted Infantryman and an Engineer Officer. He is guided by his faith and his passion to serve others. Scott has learned firsthand the challenges that face our Veteran community and wants to be the voice that helps them share their story. 

Fellowship Plans

Scott will engage the veteran community by attending veteran service organization meetings, local events, and hosting legal clinics in the community. He will provide direct representation to veterans in civil matters and create a network for tailored referrals. Scott will work together with the Tuscaloosa County Veteran’s Court to provide direct representation to those needing assistance in civil matters. He will also apply for grants and work with the University of Alabama, its alumni, and other organizations to secure the resources to extend this clinic beyond his Equal Justice Works Fellowship.

Media

A Veteran’s Perspective: 5 Things to Know When Working with Veteran Clients

Military Veteran and Alabama Law Graduate Earns Equal Justice Works Fellowship

The Project

Serving Our Sisters (“S.O.S.”) provides holistic and trauma-informed civil legal services to female veterans and all veteran survivors of military sexual trauma.

In addition to the struggles faced by all veterans, female veterans experience sexual assault, or military sexual trauma (MST), at a significantly higher rate than the general population. Thousands of veterans leave the military with less than honorable discharges due to the behavioral symptoms associated with MST and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). When veterans receive less than honorable discharges, their access to veteran resources is severely limited or completely taken away, which may result in a lack of medical care and homelessness. Many have a difficult time discussing the trauma they experienced with lawyers who are unfamiliar with military culture and the high rates of MST, and many female veterans are not comfortable seeking assistance from the male-dominated VA health system. Finding services that are both veteran-specific and trauma-informed can be difficult. S.O.S. expands Broward County veterans’ access to legal support by providing a safe space that offers holistic legal services.

Fellowship Highlights to Date

In the past twelve months, Brittany:

  • Established Serving Our Sisters, Florida’s first legal clinic specifically for female veterans and MST survivors
  • Providing full representation to 24 veteran clients, often addressing several legal needs for each client to provide holistic support
  • Provided brief services, advice and/or referrals to more than 15 additional veterans in need who did not qualify for full representation
  • Acquired income stability for a disabled veteran at risk of becoming homeless
  • Assisted multiple gender non-conforming veterans to receive the benefits they struggled to access
  • Conducted two virtual presentations, reaching hundreds with information on the project and its services

Next Steps

In the next year, Brittany Anne plans to:

  • Develop a comprehensive Broward County veterans’ resources booklet for veterans
  • Provide weekly outreach and office hours at the local Vet Center
  • Provide training on the unique considerations for veterans who are gender non-conforming and the associated additional impact MST can have
  • Provide training on resources available to homeless veterans and veterans at risk of homelessness

The Project

Maria established a mobile legal clinic to provide legal services and educational outreach to vulnerable military veterans throughout Florida. Her Fellowship aims to empower at-risk veterans to obtain employment, stable housing, financial security, and VA benefits they deserve.

Inadequate access to justice is an acute problem for Florida’s veterans due to a variety of reasons including mental and physical conditions, misinformation, inadequate outreach, and logistical obstacles. Moreover, veterans facing Post Traumatic Stress, Traumatic Brain Injury, and Survivors of Military Sexual Trauma may struggle to (1) access VA healthcare and benefits, (2) obtain employment, and (3) avoid homelessness and incarceration. The veterans mobile legal clinic eliminates these barriers by serving veterans where they are.

Fellowship Highlights to Date

In the first year of the Fellowship, Maria has:

  • Provided legal services to over 50 Veterans throughout the State on a variety of legal issues, including family law, housing, guardianships, VA benefits, and discharge upgrades
  • Met with six community stakeholder organizations, including members of the Florida Bar Military and Veterans Affairs Committee and other organizations providing legal services to veterans
  • Promoted the mobile legal clinic project in various meetings throughout the state with stakeholders that included homeless coalitions, local service providers, community groups, legal services organizations, and national advocacy groups for veterans
  • Established a collaborative relationship with the local law schools to create partnerships
  • Completed a trial prep multi-day course with NITA and applied for VA certification

Next Steps

In the next six months, Maria plans to:

  • Work with sponsors to increase the project’s pro bono capacity
  • Work with grant writers to identify and begin to establish sustainability opportunities

As a family member of veterans who have served in every military branch, I understand veterans need access to legal services to minimize the negative impact combat-related trauma has on their lives and the lives of their family members.

Maria Ceballos-Zagales /
2020 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Chesley works to develop a pro bono legal clinic for female veterans at the DC VA Medical Center hosted in the Women’s Health Clinic.

There are currently over 2 million female veterans of the United States military, accounting for 10 percent of the veteran population. Compounding the problems faced by women during service is the fact that upon separation, women veterans are less likely to self-identify as veterans. This can result in women failing to seek out benefits and not engaging in veterans’ groups that offer much-needed support and resources. Through the legal clinic, Chesley has created a space where women veterans are more likely to engage and seek out resources because the legal clinic is exclusively for women veterans.

Chesley’s work with veterans during her time in law school showed her the need to create services tailored for female veterans and motivated her to continue to help those who have served.

Fellowship Highlights to Date

During the first year of the Fellowship, Chesley has:

  • Helped over 180 women veterans through the legal clinic for women veterans.
  • Expanded the Veterans Consortium program to represent women veterans who need assistance with filing or appealing claims for VA Disability Compensation for conditions related to Military Sexual Trauma.
  • Developed a handbook to guide veterans through the process of filing a claim for VA disability compensation.
  • Created handouts explaining the appeals process and addressing the most common legal issues women veterans face.
  • Conducted a clinic where 15 veterans were able to meet with attorneys and create a will, healthcare directive, and/or power of attorney.

Next Steps

In the next year, Chesley plans to:

  • Conduct trainings to educate others about the importance of advocating for women veterans through a culturally competent and trauma-informed approach.
  • Conduct “Know Your Rights” seminars to educate women veterans about the services and benefits they are entitled to.
  • Create standard operating procedures to document best practices and increase the number of legal clinics offered to women veterans.

Media

The Veterans Consortium Announces Our 2020 Equal Justice Works Fellows

Burn Pit Exposure: Acknowledging The Gap

Women's History Month Fireside Chat

Growing up in a military family allowed me to see the sacrifices veterans had to make. I’m passionate about making sure our veterans receive the help they deserve due to the sacrifices they made.

Chesley Roberts /
2020 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Katie’s project increases access to public benefits for low-income veterans with disabilities through representation in public benefits hearings and the provision of estate planning services that preserve benefits eligibility.

Veterans with disabilities, which are often service-connected, suffer higher rates of poverty, food insecurity, unemployment, and homelessness than the general population, making their access to both civilian and veterans benefits all the more crucial. Additionally, low-income veterans with even modest assets can lose their eligibility for benefits without appropriate legal protections. Despite the importance of benefits-conscious estate planning in allowing this population to maintain their livelihood, these services are largely inaccessible.

Fellowship Highlights to Date

In the first twelve months, Katie has:

  • Provided full representation to 15 clients in estate planning and public benefits matters
  • Launched community outreach efforts that include contacting local veterans and disability service providers and distributing flyers to increase awareness and reach new potential clients
  • Established a partnership with a local veterans’ non-profit, including an educational presentation to staff members and establishment of protocols for client referrals and a partnership with the public library system to conduct educational presentations and outreach aimed at veterans
  • Engaged in administrative advocacy targeted at state Medicaid regulatory reform

Next Steps

In the next six months, Katie plans to:

  • Provide individual representation to more veterans with disabilities
  • Expand community partnerships to facilitate outreach and provide educational presentations
  • Draft a national advocacy guide on benefits-conscious estate planning
  • Increase project’s impact by continuing community outreach efforts and engaging pro bono attorneys

Veterans with disabilities are too often forgotten by the government for which they sacrificed their health and safety.

Katie Bruck /
2020 Equal Justice Works Fellow