In addition to our annual exchange with the University of Miami Health Rights Clinic, two of our advisors went above and beyond and organised their own visits to volunteer at the Clinic this summer. Below, they share their experience.
Julia Poole: During my two weeks volunteering at the Health Rights Clinic, I was assigned 2 cases: one dealing with naturalisation (the process of acquiring US citizenship) while the other involved helping my client to obtain her Disability Public Benefits.
As the clinic is focused on health and rights, most cases (including immigration ones) have some medical aspect. For example, the Public Benefits case was specifically concerning my client’s disability and getting her disability legally recognised by the State and thus eligible for financial support. The whole governmental system seemed unhelpful and I felt the Health Rights Clinic was the equivalent of Legal Aid. I worked on cases and situations I never would have been involved with in Scotland.
As well tackling my own cases, I attended a Veteran’s Drop-in Advice Clinic (similar to our Initial Advice Clinics within the context of a Veteran Project). This experience gave me a real insight into how those leaving the armed forces can struggle in adjusting to civilian life.
Overall, I thought this an amazing experience. I met some amazing people and worked on two very different cases. The Health Rights Clinic is doing an amazing job and if given the opportunity, I would go back in a heartbeat.
Antonia Welsh: I was assigned 3 cases; all with background stories themselves that really hit hard and involved medical problems that I have never before confronted. Two of my clients were diagnosed with AIDS and the third had been forced into child prostitution. One of my clients was in prison so I was speaking to the prison on a daily basis and after a few days, they knew it was a Scottish girl on the phone hounding them for records. Another client had come over the US-Mexican border using a human smuggler.
These cases saw me tackling problems that are rare in our Clinic. Two of my clients did not speak any English, and after arranging a home visit with one of my clients, a fellow advisor had to come with me to help translate.
I was also involved in naturalization cases which involved putting together a packet that would be their application for US Citizenship. The forms were anything but straight forward to understand and the sheer volume of paperwork and their complexity made me realise why people need a lawyer to help them find their way through the maze. I felt that I had really achieved something by completing the packets.
Julia and I got to attend a Drop-in Advice Clinic which was focused on helping homeless veterans. I really enjoy meeting with people and listening to their stories, understanding how they have found themselves in the position they are in and being part of a process that may be able to help support them through difficult times and offer solutions. It was eye opening to see the differences between the social welfare systems, in that there really is not the same support in place in America. The veteran we interviewed had seen active duty in his younger years and was suffering from a number of health problems, some of which were related to his service and yet he was going to be made homeless and there was not many avenues open to him. Trying to obtain benefits in the US is a lengthy and difficult process with a number going to hearings. My client who was in prison was a young woman, with numerous mental and physical health problems and was a mother to two young children, yet at her last hearing she was denied disability benefit.
My time at the Health Rights Clinic, proved to be a crash course in American law and many of the skills that I have picked up at our law clinic came in very handy. I feel that I have gained massively from working at the University of Miami Health Rights Clinic and being able to sample Law School in America. For anyone that is thinking of volunteering, I could only encourage you to go as I feel learnt a lot in a very short space of time.
Students from the University of Miami Health Rights Clinic will be visiting the Law Clinic this October, in the first leg of this year’s exchange.