Disabled veterans fighting through the federal court system are getting the legal help they need for free from University of Virginia law students. The pro bono program gives future lawyers a chance to gain crucial courtroom experience.
The usual process for a disabled veteran looking for medical and financial help does not include a lawyer--at least at first. If their case gets to the federal appeals court, the vet is left without legal representation. Because of that scenario, there's a huge backlog of vets waiting to have their cases heard, and that's where UVA law students step in.
"It's a way for vets to get legal representation cheaply and efficiently, and for the students to gain experience," said Rebekah Shapiro, a UVA law student. As a third-year law student, Shapiro has taken on a leading role for the pro bono case she was given. Guiding her in the process is Charlottesville lawyer Cooper Geraty.
"The case I have is a 79-year-old Korean vet who is claiming an injury while in active service," said Geraty. Students like Shapiro usually do the vast majority of the legal work.
The Veterans Consortium Pro Bono Program in Washington D.C. picks the vets that need the most help. "They run through the range of Agent Orange cases in Vietnam vets,” said Geraty.
Right now, UVA law students are handling two cases. They’re split into two teams, and about 20 students work in each group. UVA law professor Chris Sprigman helped organize the program.