Maria Ceballos-Zagales

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

The Project

Maria will establish a mobile legal clinic to provide legal services and educational outreach to vulnerable military veterans throughout Florida. She will empower at-risk veterans to obtain employment, stable housing, financial security, and VA benefits.

More than 51% of veterans returning from deployment have mental and physical disabilities, but only 50% of those needing treatment obtain services. Further, veterans who receive Other Than Honorable discharges due to behaviors caused by Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Traumatic Brain Injury, and Military Sexual Trauma struggles to access VA healthcare and benefits, obtain employment, and avoid homelessness and incarceration. More than 500,000 veterans qualify to petition to upgrade their discharges but only a small percentage of eligible veterans have obtained the legal services that are critical to upgrading their discharges. Misinformation, stigma surrounding mental health, advanced age, and physical and mental disabilities, and a lack of legal services for veterans prevent many from seeking legal help. Further, veterans must often travel long distances or outside of their trauma-related comfort zones to obtain legal services. The mobile legal clinic eliminates these barriers by serving veterans where they are located.

Fellowship Plans

Veterans will receive legal services to obtain VA benefits, discharge upgrades, resolution of landlord-tenant and credit disputes, and basic estate and advance healthcare planning. Maria will deliver Know Your Rights presentations to veterans throughout Florida to empower them to secure healthcare, financial security, and employment. The main client referral pipeline will be the Bay Area Legal Services’ statewide Florida Veterans Legal Helpline. Maria will also help train and collaborate with Florida’s legal aid attorneys and law students on how to effectively serve veterans, and she will expand veterans’ legal services by collaborating with community outreach organizations, veterans’ support groups, legal aid clinics, and universities.

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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