March 2020 VIP: Professor Stacey-Rae Simcox, Esq.
Prof. Stacey-Rae Simcox, Esq.
Stetson University Law School
Member, TVC National Volunteer Corps
Our Volunteer Inspiring Pro Bono (VIP) for March is a nationally recognized advocate for veterans. She is a valued partner and member of our TVC National Volunteer Corps, whose contribution to the area of veteran’s law is immeasurable.
Professor Stacey-Rae Simcox is responsible for inspiring a new generation of advocates and instilling the importance of serving veterans. Professor Simcox prepares law students to become effective and compassionate attorneys through interdisciplinary collaboration and pro bono advocacy. She empowers them to be a voice for veterans as law students, and in the future as attorneys.
Professor Simcox served eight years in the U.S. Army Judge Advocate General's Corps on active duty and in the U.S. Army Reserve. As a veteran, she brings a unique perspective to many of the challenges that our nation’s veterans face and a passion to fight for the benefits they’ve earned and deserve. Simcox is married to veteran Mark Matthews, who is also a valued member of our TVC National Volunteer Corps.
The Veterans Consortium has had the pleasure of working with Professor Simcox since 2008, when she founded the nationally recognized Lewis B. Puller, Jr. Veterans Benefits Clinic at William & Mary Law School. TVC was a partner and contributor in the establishment of the clinic by providing training, screened cases, and a seed grant that allowed them to purchase their first secure server.
Under Professor Simcox’s leadership as the Director, the Puller Clinic was recognized as a model for law schools serving veterans and was certified as a national best practice clinical program by the secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs. At the time it was established, the Puller Clinic was one of just five law school veterans clinics in the nation. Now there are over 40 active law school clinics.
In 2014, Professor Simcox left William & Mary to become the Director of the then-fledgling Stetson University College of Law, Veterans Advocacy Clinic. Since taking over as Director, this clinic has become nationally recognized as one of the most successful in the country. Professor Simcox and her students have served 92 clients, secured over $2 million in back pay for their clients with a $5.6 million projected increase in lifetime benefits. Each year, the clinic typically has 35-40 students participate in various capacities, with over 6,000 hours of pro bono legal work going into cases, from the students alone.
“I have the best job in the world. I am privileged to help my fellow veterans every day and at the same time, light a fire in law students – the desire to use their new skills to help others in need,” says Professor Simcox. “It is the law students who work on The Veterans Consortium cases that make all the difference. Not only do they provide invaluable assistance to their veteran clients, but the students carry the lessons they learn forward and continue to provide that assistance when they become attorneys. They then train others on the importance of serving veterans, and on it goes. Watching law students learn while helping TVC is invigorating. I’m inspired by these students every day.”
Professor Simcox’s students find her leadership and enthusiasm for teaching veterans law to be contagious and many have decided to practice in this area when they leave Stetson. Nine of her former students have gone into the JAG Corps and twenty-four are now practicing veterans law in some capacity. Current Stetson 3Ls, Vasilios Zimarakos and Morgan Maclsaac, have decided to practice veterans law upon graduation as well.
“Professor Simcox’s mentorship and guidance has been instrumental in my law school career. Her passion, integrity, and transparency make her one of the most effective and respectable teachers I have ever had,” says Maclsaac. “Without her, I never would have realized my passion for veterans law.”
“The Veterans Advocacy Clinic has been the most rewarding experience in my law school career. I have had the opportunity to work on 11 cases at the clinic under Professor Simcox, two of which were cases at the CAVC. Under her direction and oversight, I ‘won’ my first CAVC case. We received the case from The Veterans Consortium and achieved a Joint Motion for Remand following the Rule 33 conference. It was an invaluable experience,” says Zimarakos, a U.S. Army Veteran. “The Clinic that Professor Simcox runs is an absolutely fantastic experience for preparing law students to enter real-world practice. I look forward to building a career in veterans law.”
Professor Simcox also teaches in the areas of veterans benefits law, administrative law, trusts and estates, and legal skills. She helped to establish a unique medical-legal partnership between Stetson University College of Law and the University of South Florida's Morsani College of Medicine, which allows medical students and faculty to collaborate with law students and faculty for the benefit of disabled veterans.
Most recently, the clinic won a TVC case for a Vietnam veteran who filed his initial claim in 2007. The veteran was suffering from Multiple Sclerosis (MS) due to exposure to Cygon, an organophosphate insecticide. The VA denied his claims and several rounds of appeals because he wasn’t able to prove his exposure to Cygon, or that Cygon could cause MS.
In 2017, the clinic received the case from TVC. Unfortunately, at this point the veteran was in a VA nursing home and unable to communicate and provide information due to his progressed MS condition. Ten students worked tirelessly under the supervision of Professor Simcox. They were able to get his MS remanded for new medical examinations, found witnesses that had served with the veteran that could verify that his job did, in fact, require him to spray the insecticide, proving exposure. They worked with a neuropsychologist in the Neurology Department of University of South Florida, to get a review of the medical literature regarding organophosphates and potential causation relationship to MS.
The team was able to win a remand for the veteran. The witness statements, medical opinion and medical research submitted by the students, rebutted the VA’s position that MS was not service connected. The team stayed with the remanded case to its conclusion and in September 2019, the VA granted the claim. To date, the veteran has received $640,000 in back payments to include all the nursing home fees his wife had paid for 12 years and was entitled to have refunded.
“This case is just one example of Stacey-Rae’s leadership and ability to inspire her students to go the extra mile, think creatively, problem solve, and collaborate to achieve positive outcomes for our veterans,” says Judy Donegan, TVC’s Deputy Executive Director. “We know we can always count on the Veterans Advocacy Clinic at Stetson to take on the difficult cases and achieve positive results. Stacey-Rae is truly a Volunteer who Inspires Pro Bono.”