Help is available for South Carolina’s low-income veteran population
When Navy veteran Brooks Herring needed help seeking custody of his son, he turned to the Veterans Legal Clinic at the University of South Carolina’s School of Law.
“For the first 13 years of my son’s life, his mother had custody, and it was a struggle for me to be able to spend time with him,” says Herring, who served six years in the Navy and had a two-year civilian assignment with the Army. “I could never afford an attorney. Even being on active duty, JAG (Judge Advocate General’s Corps) doesn't handle family court cases.”
When he reached out to the Veterans Legal Clinic, Herring, who earned a bachelor’s degree at South Carolina in 2018 and is currently a doctoral candidate in physical therapy, found the help he needed.
“I went to them and said, ‘I want to be able to see my son. I want to have it on paper that I can see him.’ ”
With free legal services provided by the clinic, Herring was able to get full custody of his son, who is now a sophomore at Irmo High School and is active in the Air Force junior ROTC.
Support from a new $225,000 grant from The Boeing Co. will help the Veterans Legal Clinic continue and expand its free services to low-income veterans living in South Carolina. The clinic assists veterans who are facing issues with credit and related financial matters, housing, government benefits and family law. It was established in 2018 by grants from Boeing and the South Carolina Bar Foundation.
“At Boeing, we are committed to investing in programs that help veterans and military families make the transition back to civilian life after their service,” said Tommy Preston, Boeing’s vice president of ethics, who earned undergraduate and law degrees from USC. “Boeing’s investment in the University of South Carolina Veterans Legal Clinic ensures that this important program continues to grow so that the men and women who served our country can enjoy the freedoms they fought so hard for.”
South Carolina has one of the largest veteran populations in the nation. According to the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control, there are about 400,000 veterans living in the state, comprising nearly 10 percent of the adult population. Nearly 30 percent of those veterans have a disability, 6.9 percent live in poverty, and 4.4 percent are unemployed.
The Department of Veterans Affairs has identified legal services as one of the most significant unmet needs of homeless and indigent veterans. A 2020-21 report by the Legal Services Corp. shows that one of the top 10 unmet needs for veterans is legal assistance and that veterans do not have access to services for 88 percent of their legal problems.
The strains of deployment can result in financial and housing legal issues, as well as other complex legal matters such as divorce, child support, estate planning, accessing public benefits, guardianship and criminal record expungements.
“The university is proud to be able to assist veterans in South Carolina through an array of academic, financial and social services,” interim President Harris Pastides said. “We are especially grateful for Boeing’s partnership with the School of Law that enables us to meet a critical need for legal services.”
Currently, there is no other one-stop resource for veterans to turn to in order to receive legal aid during their time of need.
Jaclyn Cherry, director of Clinical Legal Education
The School of Law’s Veterans Legal Clinic addresses this need by offering free services to low-income veterans or military families unable to afford a private lawyer. In its first three years, the Veterans Legal Clinic has served more than 70 veterans, either through full representation or with advice and counsel or referral.
“The collaboration between Boeing and the USC School of Law ensures that veterans in South Carolina continue to receive the legal support they need while also establishing expanded legal resources and support for this overlooked population,” said Jaclyn Cherry, a USC law professor and director of clinical legal education. “Currently, there is no other one-stop resource for veterans to turn to in order to receive legal aid during their time of need.”
Since opening in 2018, services provided by the Veterans Law Clinic in areas such as credit and other related financial matters, housing issues, government benefits and family law issues have an estimated value of $2 million.
Because Herring’s custody case was contested, it lasted for over a year.
“I had a team of dedicated law school attorneys, paralegals, students and staff, coordinating with a team of attorneys in Horry County, who worked on my case,” Herring says. “I was always impressed with their professionalism, communication and attention to detail of the clinic staff and students, and I am grateful for their dedication to serving the veterans of our state.”
The goal over the next several years is to further expand the clinic’s reach into rural and underserved areas of South Carolina through use of the university Palmetto LEADER bus, which will allow for provision of an additional 120 intake and referral services and 10 full-service cases per year.
In addition to serving veterans, the clinic gives law students the opportunity to gain valuable real-world experience by representing these clients under the supervision of Cherry and other practicing attorneys through the South Carolina Supreme Court’s Student Practice Rule.
“The Veterans Legal Clinic is one of the eight clinical programs that allow our students to practice their skills and make a positive, tangible difference in their clients’ lives,” said William C. Hubbard, dean of the School of Law. “The impact cannot be underestimated for our communities, nor for our students. The Veterans Legal Clinic is an integral part of how we serve our great state while producing lawyer-leaders who will continue to uplift our society for years to come.”
Nicole Jackson worked with the Veteran’s Legal Clinic during her last semester of law school in 2019. She says she went to law school to help people through the legal system, which can be stressful and confusing.
“Working with different types of cases and the issues that come up with each one was really beneficial — especially since I am continuing pro bono work in my career at S.C. Legal Services,” Jackson says. “Being able to serve veterans and their families who really need it by virtue of the clinic is one of the best experiences I had in law school.”
The Veteran’s Legal Clinic is housed on the third floor of the School of Law, located at 1525 Senate St. Hours of operation are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays. Veterans interested in seeing whether their legal problem can be helped by the clinic should call 803-777-2278 or visit the law school’s clinic webpage and complete the intake form. The Veterans Legal Clinic collaborates with other legal and social service providers to coordinate services and maximize the number of veterans assisted throughout the state.