Navy veteran Terry Robinson has a bad shoulder.
He goes in every three months for shots, he said, which help. He’d like to get it replaced, but every time he gets reassessed for that and other ailments, the Veterans Administration sends him a letter.
“They just say I am fine,” Robinson said.
Just because his personal doctor puts notes in his file doesn’t mean the board sees or agrees with them, he said.
When he heard Florida Coastal School of Law was opening a clinic Downtown at the Veterans Administration on Friday, he popped in. Just to see what it was all about. Maybe they could help him somehow.
An hour or so later, he left with his complete medical history — 600 pages or so — and guidance on where he could upload that information. When the board that assesses him asks for any information that could help make a determination on treatment, maybe for his shoulder or leg, he now can easily provide it.
“They opened my eyes to a lot of things I didn’t know,” Robinson said.
Friday was the first day of the Florida Coastal clinic, leading into January’s launch of a Veterans Legal Collaborative to provide a holistic approach for legal services to veterans.
“We are not trying to recreate the wheel,” said Sarah Sullivan, Florida Coastal’s director of Disability and Public Benefits Clinic. “We are trying to make the wheel turn better for veterans.”
Veterans often can need a multitude of legal services as they transition to civilian life, said Sullivan. More common issues happen in areas of family stresses, mental and substance abuse, child support, housing and debt.
The clinic, open 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. every other Friday, is an opportunity to possibly start receiving that help in a place — the VA — where “they are most comfortable,” she said.
When a veteran comes in, they fill out the needed paperwork and get to sit down with an attorney or trained law student and legal advocate.
It’s an opportunity to tell their story.
From there, the veterans could receive help from one of Florida Coastal’s in-house legal clinics. Family law, criminal defense and disability and benefits are some of the services offered.
If the issues fall outside that scope, they could be referred to Jacksonville Area Legal Aid, Three Rivers Legal Services, Veterans Treatment Court or the VA. Each of those agencies have signed on to help with the Florida Coastal collaborative.
There also is another group that will be part of the network, but Sullivan said final contract negotiations were still underway.
With the help of those organizations, there is little to no cost involved, Sullivan said. Instead it’s students, professors, Florida Coastal alumni, pro bono attorneys and advocates who help.
For law school students, Sullivan said her goal as a clinical professor always has been to “light a fire for public service.”
This initiative, she said, does just that — there’s an outstanding need for veterans legal assistance and likely will be for years.