Maria Ceballos-Zagales

  • Hosted by Bay Area Legal Services
  • Sponsored by Kirkland & Ellis, Raytheon Technologies
  • Service location Tampa, Florida
  • Law school University of Florida Fredric G. Levin College of Law
  • Issue area Veterans' Rights
  • Fellowship class year 2020
  • Program Design Your Own Fellowship

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

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