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
Shari helped young adult domestic violence victims escape or prevent abusive relationships through outreach and education in local schools and community organizations, legal representation for domestic violence victims in Family Court proceedings, and advocacy for a more coordinated juvenile justice response to domestic violence among young adults.
Need Addressed By Project
Dating violence seems to make the headlines only when a celebrity is involved. Yet the U.S. Department of Justice has found that young women ages 16 to 24 are more vulnerable to intimate partner violence than any other age group. Approximately 1 in 5 female high school students report being physically and/or sexually abused in a dating relationship. Young adults who experience abusive relationships are more likely to do poorly in school, binge drink, attempt suicide, and get into fights. Victims may also carry the patterns of violence into future relationships. In Essex County, N.J., socio-economic factors coupled with a significant reduction in resources for free legal services have created a gap in services for young adult domestic violence victims. They need legal advocacy to protect them from their abusers, as well as education on the warning signs of domestic violence and how to seek legal and other support services, which can help break the cycle of violence.
During her Fellowship, Shari:
- Assisted 250 low-income families in matters such as domestic violence restraining orders, child custody and visitation, spousal and child support, divorce, and remedies pursuant to the New Jersey Safe Housing Act
- Established and maintained a referral network with other domestic violence service providers in Essex County
- Organized and presented seminars for more than 1,200 students and community members on domestic violence and healthy relationships at various schools, community organizations, and partner agencies
- Recruited and mentored volunteer law students and lawyers to expand capacity for representing young adult domestic violence victims
Where are they now?
Shari continues to provide legal services to domestic violence victims with various family law issues as a Staff Attorney at Essex-Newark Legal Services.
Samantha built greater receptivity to Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) in NJ by representing unaccompanied immigrant children and providing technical assistance to NJ pro bono attorneys representing children in SIJS matters.
Despite the vulnerability of unaccompanied immigrant children, the United States does not provide them free legal counsel. This lack of representation, combined with a recent surge in children entering the US alone, has led to a dramatic increase in the need for low-cost legal resources in New Jersey. This fellowship project is important because it gives a voice to children who are frequently silenced by the legal system. Moreover, the focus on one specific type of relief – SIJS – will improve conditions in the long term for SIJS-eligible minors in New Jersey.
In the past two years, Samantha Rumsey has:
- Provided direct representation to thirty-three SIJS-eligible children
- Enhanced receptivity to SIJS in NJ family courts by engaging in local dialogue regarding novel and complex issues, providing technical assistance and mentorship to KIND pro bono attorneys who are representing children in SIJS matters, and supporting litigation efforts surrounding the NJ Supreme Court case, H.S.P. v. J.K..
- Expanded KIND’s collaboration with social-service providers by meeting with providers, making program summaries available to colleagues, referring clients to programs, and creating a reproductive rights and resources packet, which is now distributed to all KIND clients.
Now that the Fellowship is complete, Samantha Rumsey plans to:
- Use the expertise she gained as an Equal Justice Works Fellow to represent unaccompanied immigrant children and adults with children as a Staff Attorney/Fellow at the Immigrant Rights Clinic at Rutgers School of Law, Newark.
- Continue to collaborate with attorneys at KIND and advocates at other New Jersey non-profits and academic institutions to increase access to representation and improve conditions for immigrant children in New Jersey.
Removing legal barriers to employment.