Matthew Handley

The Project

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.

Fellowship Plans

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

The Project

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.

Next Steps

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.

Media

The Veterans Consortium Announces Our 2020 Equal Justice Works Fellows

Burn Pit Exposure: Acknowledging The Gap

Women's History Month Fireside Chat

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

The Project

Michael assisted homeless and at-risk veterans in rural Maryland by providing civil legal aid and advocacy on Veterans Affairs (VA) benefits and other issues through the innovative use of technology linking pro bono attorneys to rural veterans.

Rural homeless or at-risk veterans continue to face incredible hurdles in obtaining the VA benefits and relief to which they are entitled. Accordingly, veterans comprise a greater proportion of the homeless population in rural Maryland than in urban Maryland, yet no pro bono services existed that were targeted at serving rural homeless veterans in the state. The absence of services coupled with the lack of mass transit meant that rural homeless and at-risk veterans were cut off from access to civil legal aid. The project, the Rural Veterans Legal Assistance Project, brought pro bono legal assistance to them. Michael used lay volunteers and Skype to connect urban, central Maryland pro bono attorneys to homeless or at-risk veterans in rural intake centers. The project not only helped rural homeless veterans receive the benefits they are entitled to, but will also brought visibility to an otherwise forgotten rural population.

Fellowship Highlights

In the past two years, Michael has:

  • Assisted 94 homeless or at-risk veterans with Veteran benefits issues and criminal record expungement—most would not have had access to civil legal aid without the project
  • Opened two permanent legal clinics in rural Maryland, covering the high-need geographic regions of Cecil Co., Harford Co., and Southern Maryland
  • Trained 104 attorneys in VA benefits law and furthered the Maryland Bar’s involvement pro bono involvement in assisting homeless or at-risk veterans.

 

The Project

Since 2001, over 100,000 veterans have been discharged under “Other than Honorable” or “Less than Honorable” conditions. These discharge characterizations bar veterans from receiving VA health and disability benefits as well as the GI Bill. Veterans often believe discharge upgrades are easily obtainable, but denial rates remain high across all service branches in large part due to veterans submitting incorrect or incomplete applications and failing to develop compelling cases with legal assistance.

Fellowship Highlights

In the past two years, Eleyse has:

  • Provided advice to 85 veterans through the clinic, bi-monthly Military Mondays Starbucks program, and the online certificate course
  • Recorded educational videos to serve as instruction regarding administrative and medical separations and discharge upgrade advocacy for students in the online certificate course
  • Established connections on both civilian and military fronts with people working in various aspects of military separations and discharge upgrades
  • Synthesized extensive research and knowledge learned through direct work on cases of inequitable administrative and medical separations requiring discharge upgrades to create a comprehensive set of educational training materials
  • Developed a web-based training module on military separations and discharge upgrade advocacy

What’s Next

Now that the Fellowship is complete, Eleyse plans to continue advocating for service members and veterans in the Hampton Roads area

The Project

Jenna created a nationwide Medical-Legal Partnership to obtain medical/psychological assessments and records review to support veterans’ applications for benefits before military correction boards and the Departments of Veterans Affairs.

Veterans’ applications for disability benefits and discharge upgrades frequently hinge on a corroborating psychiatric or medical opinion. Unfortunately, many veterans do not have access to high quality, low-cost medical care to obtain an expert opinion in support of their application for benefits or records correction. A nationwide Medical-Legal Partnership enables practitioners and advocates to identify professionals willing to work with these veterans and provide these necessary opinions for a reasonable, reduced-price fee.

Fellowship Highlights

During her Fellowship, Jenna:

  • Created partnerships with 27 individuals and clinics who agreed to be part of the Medical-Legal Partnership and provide expert opinions in veterans’ cases
  • Placed 35 cases with experts for medical opinions to bolster applications for military medical retirements, upgrades in veterans’ characterization of discharge, and disability compensation from the Department of Veterans Affairs for survivors of Military Sexual Trauma
  • Provided brief service and advice to 147 veterans and full representation to another 144 veterans for assistance with applications for military medical retirements and discharge upgrades
  • Developed a Medical-Legal Partnership Training Manual, Discharge Upgrade, and Wrongful Personality Disorder Discharges, and contributed to a chapter in a treatise on veterans law regarding discharge upgrades

Next Steps

Following her Fellowship, Jenna has stayed on at NVLSP as a staff attorney. She assists with applications for medical retirements and records corrections, and continues to monitor and work with the Medical-Legal Partnership she developed during her Fellowship. She also continues to train and mentor pro bono attorneys assisting veterans with applications for medical retirement or discharge upgrades or other matters.