Why Veterans Need Good Lawyers

October 24, 2022

Why Veterans Need Good Lawyers

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There’s only one area of law where the federal government denies you from hiring a lawyer until you’re denied benefits. 

That’s veterans law. 

And according to Pew Research, there were 17 million total United States’ veterans in 2021. The 2022 population of Florida is 22 million, for reference. 

But why are laws and regulations surrounding veterans, their access to lawyers, benefits and resources they need, increasingly difficult? 

First, we must understand what a veteran is, who protects them, and how their benefits are handled.

What legally defines a veteran?

According to Stacey-Rae Simcox, Professor of Law and Director of the Veterans Advocacy Clinic at Stetson University, the legal definition of a veteran varies “by whether you’re talking about the Federal government’s definition of a veteran or the state’s.”

Federal Definition

A veteran is defined as someone who served on active duty in the United States military, and has a qualifying discharge from that service.

States’ Definitions

While each state defines what classifies veterans differently, the state of Florida defines it as “someone who served on active duty in any branch of the United States Armed Forces, [and] have received an honorable discharge.”

Other states, like Massachusetts, require different service timelines for veteran eligibility. 

Confusing? Very. 

But if you’re confused by the definition of veteran, imagine the confusion veterans feel when applying for the benefits they believed were promised to them by the Department of Defense (DoD). 

Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs

There’s a huge difference between these departments, and it goes deeper than what they provide for military members during their period(s) of service and after.

To start, the Department of Defense (DoD) and the Department of Veterans Affairs (commonly called “The VA”) aren’t even in the same cabinet department. Active duty military members are protected by the DoD, while the VA processes service members’ benefits claims after they return. 

To help understand how we advocate for veterans after they’ve returned, let’s focus on the VA and some of the key benefits they offer veterans. 

What is the GI Bill?

According to the DoD, the GI Bill was enacted after World War II by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to prevent another stock market crash following the return of over 16 million veterans. Today, it provides education grants to both veterans and their children.

What is VA healthcare?

The United States Department of Veterans Affairs covers long-term healthcare plans and services for veterans. This includes generalized and speciality healthcare, as well as dental and vision coverage.  

What is the PACT Act?

Formally known as The Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring Our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxins Act of 2022, the PACT Act directly supports veterans who were exposed to toxics that negatively impacted their health over time.  

With a wide range of toxins listed, this bill was also designed to protect post-9/11 Burn Pit residents, who were exposed to various toxins from burning fuel, human waste, and more while serving in the Middle East. .

In the years following 9/11 – and more so than ever before – more soldiers came back from serving having developed rare forms of lung diseases, cancers, and other illnesses that forced them to apply for these benefits. 

Ultimately, the PACT Act orders the VA to expand care for veterans, and should result in the overturning of many previously denied medical claims. 

Why is veterans advocacy important for law students? 

While any level of real-world experience is beneficial for law students, veterans advocacy law presents highly complex medical and procedural challenges that push them to develop a wide range of valuable lawyering skills. 

This includes client and witness interviewing, evidence development and arguments, developing amicus briefs, revisiting valuable sources of evidence and testimony, and other organizational skills – a mixed bag of all of the best tools a lawyer can have.

Get real-world veteran advocacy training 

At the Stetson Law Veterans Advocacy Clinic, law students are able to take on veterans’ cases under professor supervision. Here, they get to be the first in line to speak to veterans and conduct intake interviews. Students then go onto creating a plan of action: how the claims should be addressed, what evidence needs to be found, writing briefs – all with expert mentors guiding them along the way. 

All of this experience is valuable – not only to students, but also to the veteran clients themselves.

The most important part of being a lawyer is piecing together everything in a case – evidence, witnesses, and the case as an entirety. And At Stetson University College of Law, you’ll get the real-world knowledge and training to do just that, all while working with experts on the toughest veteran law cases. 

We invite you to learn more about Stetson’s Veterans Law Institute and credit hours available

If you’re interested in gaining hands-on veterans advocacy law experience, apply to Stetson University College of Law today!

Learn more about veteran advocacy on our “Real Cases” podcast

Our new podcast episode “The First Line of Defense” features an in-depth interview with Professor Stacey-Rae Simcox, Director of Stetson’s Veterans Law Institute and the Veterans Advocacy Clinic. She discusses the legal gray areas for veterans applying for various benefits, like disability and education assistance, and the challenges they face in the years after returning home.  

Check out this and other fascinating episodes of “Real Cases,” a legal podcast presented by Stetson University College of Law.


Listen to all episodes of "Real Cases" now

Topics: Real Cases