In August 2015, Matthew Goodison-Orr, a third-year Hofstra University law student, began working with Gary Port, a West Hempstead resident, attorney and U.S. Army veteran, on a pro bono legal case: A marine had suffered a brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder while on duty in Iraq, and never received treatment from the military after he requested it. He began to self-medicate with marijuana, and was kicked out of the Marine Corps after a urine test.
“We got his records together and submitted an appeal,” said Port, who claims that only 5 percent of upgrade appeals are successful. “We successfully secured his upgrade right before Thanksgiving, and now he can go to an employer with an honorable discharge.”
He and Hofstra hope to repeat this victory when they launch the Veterans Law Clinic, a pro bono effort that will become part of the university’s Gitenstein Institute for Health Law and Policy on Jan. 10.
Hofstra law professor and director of the Institute, Janet Dolgin —also a West Hempstead resident — said Long Island veterans are a population with significant needs and few resources to help them. “One thing central to us was to provide a legal clinic for those who need help and can’t find it — either because they don’t have the resources to hire an attorney or because there aren’t enough attorneys to do this,” she said. “These are men and women who have risked their life protecting our country, and they deserve the type of representation that we will provide to them.” Currently, there are roughly 130,000 veterans living on Long Island.
Dolgin commented that the institute is in talks with the university’s medical school, business school and others that can add value to the program. Port and Dolgin are also in discussions with several law firms about donating pro bono hours to help grow the initiative.
The clinic will provide legal help in two main areas only — appeals on disability claims and discharge upgrades — and will begin by training eight Hofstra law students on military basics and how to work with veterans. “We’re going to teach them about the law of these appeals, as well as how you interview a client, how you pull together the information and how to do the final product for the administrative agency’s appellate board,” Port said. “My personal goal is to blow the doors off of this. That will allow the dean as well as the president to see successes, and provide more students in the subsequent years.”
Port was among the founders of the West Hempstead Chamber of Commerce, and served his local Boy Scout troop in manyleadership roles since 2004. Besides being a professor of health care law, Dolgin is also a professor of science education in the university’s medical school and the co-director of Hofstra’s Bioethics Center.
In addition to the Veterans Law Clinic, Hofstra will soon be the first in New York to be part of Starbucks’ Military Mondays program, which provides advice and counsel to veterans at Starbucks’ locations across the country. Hofstra’s program will kick off on Feb. 6. A Starbucks location has not yet been confirmed.
The university also provides a separate one-day clinic for veterans at which they can discuss any topic with the university’s law students through the Hofstra Veterans Law Students Association. Those clinics occur twice a year, with the next to be held in April. For additional information, call (516) 463-7302 or email VLSAHofstra@gmail.com
Veterans interested in the Veterans Law Clinic should contact the university after the official opening on Jan. 10.