Danicole will provide compassionate legal services and advocacy for noncitizen veterans who served in the United States military.
Foreign-born residents comprise nearly a quarter of Hawai‘i’s population of 1.4 million and include an estimated 40,000 undocumented residents and 106,000 veterans. Yet, only eight lawyers statewide provide free or low-cost immigration legal services to immigrant communities. In Hawai‘i, two of the largest immigrant communities are the Filipino and Pacific Islander communities. Noncitizen veterans from these communities can end up in removal proceedings and be removed despite being eligible to naturalize earlier. Many failed to naturalize because they did not understand the process.
Danicole’s immigrant heritage and service to the United States military inspire his commitment to serve the immigrants who served this country.
During his Fellowship, Danicole will help noncitizen veterans navigate the naturalization process and represent them in removal proceedings. He will also collaborate with veteran organizations to ensure noncitizen veterans are aware of the immigration benefits to which they are entitled. Finally, Danicole will develop a policy report and advocate at the state and federal level about issues impacting noncitizen veterans in Hawai‘i.
As a child of immigrants and someone who serves in the military, I believe noncitizen veterans are the embodiment of American patriotism. They deserve dignity and respect for their sacrifices to this country.
Danicole Ramos /
2023 Equal Justice Works Fellow
Jason’s (he/him) project through the National Veterans Legal Services Program will provide legal and policy advocacy as well as a nationwide outreach campaign to assist combat veterans in obtaining and overturning improper denials of Combat-Related Special Compensation (CRSC) benefits.
Veterans who served in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan frequently suffer from debilitating illness or unique forms of cancer caused by exposure to burn pits from inhaling the smoke created by burning trash, medical waste, asbestos, and other hazardous chemicals. The SFC Heath Robinson Honoring Our PACT Act enables veterans to obtain CRSC benefits for these conditions through the Department of Defense; however, there is very little awareness of the expanded eligibility for this entitlement since the PACT Act does not specifically mention CRSC and veterans’ groups commonly focus solely on the expansion of VA benefits. CRSC provides an additional tax-free monthly benefit to assist retired, disabled veterans to support themselves and their families—which is critical for veterans who are unemployed due to battling cancer or other illnesses. This benefit is only useful if veterans are aware of its existence.
Prior to attending law school, Jason served for over fourteen years on active duty in the U.S. Army as an infantry paratrooper. While in the military, Jason completed multiple overseas assignments, including two combat deployments to Afghanistan. In Afghanistan, Jason was involved in both direct and indirect firefights and suffered traumatic brain injury from an improvised explosive device blast. With his health failing and a desire to spend more time with his family, Jason decided to forego military retirement to attend law school in hopes of being able to better serve his fellow veterans. Jason knows firsthand that military service is often the source of complex physical, emotional, and behavioral impairments resulting from repeated exposure to trauma throughout a veteran’s career. As a 100% disabled veteran, Jason is also intimately familiar with the obstacles veterans face in obtaining the benefits they have earned. Jason is deeply and profoundly thankful for the opportunity to continue serving his fellow veterans by assisting them in securing benefits they are rightfully owed through this Equal Justice Works Fellowship.
Jason plans to address this issue by engaging in a nationwide outreach campaign to inform veterans that the recently enacted PACT Act significantly expands eligibility for CRSC for a host of conditions associated with exposure to burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan. This outreach campaign, through the assistance of Latham and Watkins, LLP, will further inform veterans who have been previously denied for presumptive conditions may seek assistance from the National Veterans Legal Services Program for appeals. Additionally, Jason plans to substantially reduce the number of veterans improperly denied CRSC through impact litigation and administrative and policy advocacy to improve consistency, uniformity, and access to justice between the military branches.
My Equal Justice Works Fellowship will afford me the opportunity to serve disabled veterans who, as a result of exposure to toxic burn pits while in combat, are now battling cancer and other rare illnesses. As a 100% disabled combat veteran, I'm honored and proud to continue a career of service by assisting my fellow veterans to obtain benefits that will make a monumental impact on improving their quality of life.
Jason Davidson /
2023 Equal Justice Works Fellow
Chris (he/him/his) will help noncitizen U.S. military veterans and active duty service members obtain citizenship, veterans benefits, and public assistance benefits they may qualify for.
Despite provisions of law designed to give immigrants who served in the military a streamlined path to citizenship, between 90,000 and 125,000 veterans remain noncitizens. The law is supposed to be on their side, but their path to citizenship is often blocked by the inherent difficulties of navigating the nation’s complex and unforgiving immigration system. This phenomenon has been exacerbated as, over the last six years, the executive branch and military placed additional hurdles in the path of service members seeking to naturalize. No one who has put their life on the line for this country should ever face deportation, but many do because they were unable to complete the naturalization process while eligible, and later—often minor—infractions put their immigration status in jeopardy.
Chris is an Iraq War veteran who relied on local interpreters to do his job. He was inspired to seek a career in immigration law by seeing the hurdles they faced and the desperate conditions that led them, like many other hopeful immigrants, to hope for safety in the U.S.
Chris will combat the deportation and marginalization of noncitizen veterans in southwest Texas through outreach, education, and representation in naturalization, VA benefits, and public assistance benefits. His foremost focus will be on preventative action: helping those still on active duty navigate the naturalization process and forestall any possibility of adverse future action. At the same time, he will partner with Texas RioGrande Legal Aid and pro bono attorneys to grow long-term capacity to represent other noncitizen veterans. Chris’ efforts will be underpinned by outreach to veteran and community organizations, leveraging their existing ties to the population to help build a client base.
As an American, I think the U.S. should welcome all immigrants. As a veteran, I am appalled that someone who has served, as I did, could ever face deportation.
Chris Rogers /
2023 Equal Justice Works Fellow
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
Serving Our Sisters provided trauma-informed civil legal services to assist female veterans in South Florida trying to access resources and services vital to their financial and medical security. Brittany advocated for the benefits and rights of veterans who experienced military sexual trauma (MST). Through Operation Sacred Trust, Brittany prevented the homelessness of MST survivors, ensured income maintenance, and ensured access to vital medical care for those who served our country.
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.
- Provided full representation to more than 45 veterans in areas including discharge upgrades, VA benefits, SSI/SSDI benefits, housing, and debt relief
- Provided brief services, advice, and/or referrals to over 60 veterans, including assistance in filing pro se answers and helping veterans understand their rights with the Department of Veterans Affairs and Landlords
- Preserved the housing of many veterans at risk of homelessness
- Gave multiple presentations to veterans on the rights of MST survivors, reaching over 3000 individuals
- Worked with nine organizations and agencies to advance her advocacy efforts on behalf of veterans
- Advanced coalition-building efforts to expand the reach and impact of her project, collaborating with 11 groups and attending nearly 30 coalition meetings
- Provided training to the Operation Sacred Trust team on trauma-informed services
- Raised awareness of the long-term consequences of MST and its effect on survivors
Following her Fellowship, Brittany will remain at Operation Sacred Trust’s legal services program as a Staff Attorney. Brittany will continue her advocacy on behalf of veterans and will be the go-to person for clients who experienced Military Sexual Trauma.