The struggle of U.S. military veterans to get the benefits — especially, but not exclusively, health benefits — they have earned through service to our country has been too familiar a story in recent years.
As reported last week by Ledger-Enquirer staff writer Larry Gierer, the University of Georgia School of Law is establishing a Veterans Legal Services Clinic to help with those and other issues. And some prominent lawyers, led by Columbus attorney Jim Butler — UGA law school grad and son of a Navy aviator — are providing major funding for the program.
As described on the UGA website, the clinic “will provide veterans in Georgia with legal assistance they might not otherwise have access to or be able to afford, with particular regard to denied or deferred claims before the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. It also includes an educational scholarship component … [it] will be staffed by law students who will work directly with veterans and their dependents to ensure access to benefits and services, especially for those with mental or physical disabilities resulting from their time in the military.”
Butler’s lead gift, in memory of his father Lt. Cmdr. James E. Butler Sr., was announced Wednesday; four other Columbus-connected supporters, members of the law school’s board of visitors, are G. Sanders Griffith III, Kenneth M. Henson Jr., Pete Robinson, and Butler’s law partner Joel Wooten.
“Bo Rutledge, the dean of the law school, had the idea,” Butler said Monday from his Columbus office. “They started talking about it a couple of years ago. They key is funding; they’ve got plenty of competent people to run it.”
Among those who have been organizing this program are veterans, officials from Veterans Affairs, legal professionals and other faculty members and administrators at UGA. It is expected to be up and running by next summer.
This clinic will not only offer legal assistance and advice for veterans; it will also provide $5,000 matching scholarships each year for two veterans studying at the UGA law school.
And the benefit, Butler added, isn’t limited to veterans.
“Another attraction is the opportunity to train law students,” he said. “The University of Georgia law school’s clinical programs are among the best in the country. You take these young law students in their formative years and get them involved in helping people, it affects what they will do as lawyers.”
As reported in Gierer’s story, a “managing attorney” will serve as clinic director, and law students will work with veterans and their dependents on legal issues, including those involving benefits related to service-connected mental or physical disabilities. A special focus will be on VA claims denied, deferred or delayed.
Rutledge, the law school dean, said in a statement on the UGA website, "We are grateful for Jim's willingness to invest in this new clinic, which will make a real difference for the veterans we serve and provide our students with a truly meaningful opportunity."