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.
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.
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
Jonathan will create, coordinate, and manage a veterans outreach program in the Tampa Bay Area in order to assist and educate veterans and their dependents on the process and requirements for removing barriers to benefits by providing pro bono legal aid services to remove those barriers enabling them to receive the benefits that were earned and deserved.
Florida is home to about 1.6 million veterans ranking third in the nation with Tampa Bay having the largest veteran population in the state. Unfortunately, many veterans do not receive the benefits they deserve because of errors by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) in handling their claim or because the veterans are uneducated about what they are entitled to and the process to obtain it. As a result, these veterans are often destitute, homeless, and without necessary medical care which creates a burden on the veteran, their family, and society as a whole. The implementation of community outreach, education, and assistance will be a huge step in assisting this vulnerable and deserving group of American Heroes in getting their benefits. There is a saying in the Army, never leave a fallen comrade, and these veterans who are sick, poor, and homeless are fallen and need the Veterans Law Institute’s help.
Jon has dedicated his life to serving the veteran community and this country. He brings with him the professional and legal experience necessary to conduct the outreach, education, and representation to make a positive impact on the veterans he represents and the community as a whole.
After becoming an accredited attorney with the VA, Jon will represent veteran clients in appeals of denial of benefits at the Board of Veterans’ Appeals and the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims. He also plans to create a referral network for veterans and a resource guide. Jon will focus on educating law students and veterans alike about veteran’s legal rights as well as the services and benefits that are available.
I am a 100% disabled combat veteran who served two deployments for a total of twenty months in Afghanistan where I was a leader of Soldiers that performed hundreds of combat operations.
Jon Glover /
Equal Justice Works Fellow
Peterson provided legal representation to Haitian immigrants in Hillsborough, Manatee, and Pinellas counties. Through the project, Peterson increased immigration relief through outreach and legal rights presentations. Additionally, Peterson met the community’s needs by directly representing community members in immigration court.
While working at Three Rivers Legal Services, Inc. I will be assisting domestic violence survivors in different capacities. I will be participating in court proceedings such as injunction hearings and conducting community outreach. This includes developing informative materials and working with community agencies to educate the public about domestic violence and the resources available to help these particular survivors.
Charles “Cary” M. David helped indigent people who face challenges in securing shelter for their families. The majority of the caseload consists of eviction defense. Landlord-tenant relationships often involve a severe imbalance of power. This imbalance sometimes leads to mistreatment and unfair dealings on the part of property owners leasing to low income individuals. This Fellowship helped tenants who are subject to eviction assert their legal rights against their landlords and ensured that families are not illegally put out on the street.
Low income and homeless veterans face tremendous obstacles to obtaining employment and securing permanent housing, and while many of the challenges they face mirror those of other populations, it is especially important that our communities honor their service by maintaining vital lifelines. Kenneth worked with Community Legal Aid Services to assist veterans in overcoming these hurdles through legal means and once again successfully serving their respective communities. Kenneth’s project also includes an outreach component that ensures veterans are aware of the full range of services, legal or other, at their disposal in this region.
Florida has the second highest population of homeless veterans in the country, and St. Petersburg has the highest number in the state. Nearly 1,000 homeless veterans live in the Tampa Bay area, with more than half of those in St. Petersburg. Tampa Bay has two of the largest VA hospitals in the country–Bay Pines VA Healthcare System and the Haley Veterans’ Hospital. Many veterans come to this area because they know they can get medical help. A significant contributing factor to veterans living in poverty is their inability to navigate the often complex and overburdened VA system. In addition, over 50% of homeless veterans have disabilities, including PTSD, which is compensable under the VA but can be difficult to prove. Merely completing and filing a disability claim is difficult, but many veterans face additional challenges stemming from sometimes debilitating disabilities. There is a vast need throughout the country for more attorneys to help veterans with their claims, and this problem is particularly acute in the Tampa Bay area.
In the past two years, Cherilyn has:
- Established a Medical Legal Partnership at the Bay Pines VA, hosting a walk-in clinic once a week for veterans’ legal issues
- Provided full representation to 60 veterans and assisted over 500 veterans with advice, brief services, and referrals
- Connected with over 20 local non-profit organizations and social service providers to create a network of referrals for veterans’ social and legal issues
Now that the Fellowship is complete, Cherilyn plans to:
- Continue representing veterans in their disability claims, discharge upgrades, and various other civil legal issues at Bay Area Legal Services
- Create a VA MLP externship to recruit more law students to help with cases, as well as develop materials for the project
- Form additional partnerships and grow existing ones to further develop a strong referral network among social service providers to cover the wide array of veterans’ social, psychological, and legal needs
- Ensure this project is sustainable and replicable by applying for grants and creating a body of training materials to help teach others about this type of legal work
Annie provided zealous educational advocacy and legal assistance for children with disabilities, with a concentration on those living in rural poverty, to keep them in school and out of the school-to-prison pipeline.
Annie sought to address the needs of students in rural areas who are disproportionately punished and/or underserved due to race or disability. Oftentimes, these children are at the highest risk of entering the school-to-prison pipeline, which encompasses the use of zero-tolerance discipline, school-based arrests, and suspension/expulsion. Annie advocated for the proper implementation of supports for these students, and by doing so, actively worked toward creating systematic change in the Florida school system.
During the two-year Fellowship period, Annie:
- Advocated for children who were not receiving a free and appropriate education, providing full representation to 45 clients and brief services and advice to over 100 individuals
- Developed and conducted 25 presentations and workshops for community stakeholders, reaching over 2,300 individuals
- Presented 10 Come Home Safe trainings at the Boys and Girls Club, sharing information on rights and responsibilities when interacting with the police with over 450 children
- Trained over 240 service providers and other partners through six presentations
- Collaborated with seven groups to expand the reach and impact of the project
- Drafted and submitted complaints regarding discrimination and/or denial of a free and appropriate education
Following the Fellowship, Annie continues to collaborate with community members in rural central Florida to increase awareness about the supports available to students in the special education system. She also continues to address the use of discriminatory policies and practices by school districts which target students based on disabilities and/or race.