USD’s Legal Clinics welcomes Robert “Bob” Muth, Esq. Supervising Attorney for the new Veterans Clinic. The Veterans Clinic joins the School of Law’s ten award-winning Legal Clinics, which train upper level law students while providing free legal services for individuals in San Diego County. The clinic will represent student veterans in disputes with for-profit institutions over the use of GI Bill funds and predatory lending. Free legal services range from advice to identification of potential claims to representation in litigation, arbitration and other forms of dispute resolution.
As a former Captain and Judge Advocate in the U.S. Marine Corps, Muth is particularly well equipped to direct the Veterans Clinic. Shortly after 9/11, he was commissioned as an Officer in the Marine Corps. He served in the individual ready reserve while attending law school at Duke University School of Law and in 2005 returned to active duty. He worked primarily as a defense counsel and handled a wide range of criminal cases, and was also deployed to Iraq for 13 months. While deployed, he served as the Senior Defense Counsel for the Marine Corps in Iraq. Muth was named the Defense Counsel of the Year in 2008-2009 by the Navy-Marine Corps Trial Judiciary, Western Judicial Circuit. In 2009, he left active duty in the Marines and went into private practice with a civil litigation firm, Godes & Preis LLP, primarily representing corporate clients.
In May of this year, Muth learned about the full-time position directing the new Veterans Clinic at USD and was hired in mid-July. “I’ve always been interested in academia,” states Muth. “I thought at some point, I’d like to come back to it and, when this position opened up, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to work with law students while at the same time continuing to give back to the veterans’ community.”
In his role as the Supervising Attorney of the Veterans Clinic, Muth is charged with overseeing the legal interns in providing legal advice and representation of veterans and military personnel in GI Bill benefit disputes, teaching and writing curriculum for the clinic’s coursework, creating collaborations with local and regional military and veterans organizations, and working with Outreach Coordinator, Patty O’Deane to coordinate community presentations.
“We primarily handle cases of student veterans, reservists or even active duty personnel and their families who feel they’ve been defrauded in some way with respect to their GI Bill benefits, most often by for-profit education companies,” explains Muth. “These are mainly individuals who were misled when they signed student enrollment agreements; for instance, people who were told credits would transfer that didn’t or that their GI Bill benefits would cover all the tuition and fees when they don’t, and so they end up owing large sums of money.”
The goal of the Veterans Clinic is both to assist individuals who have been defrauded as well as to conduct outreach to the community to educate veterans, reservists and active duty personnel before they sign enrollment agreements. “Often these for-profit education companies use hard sell tactics and then present veterans with extensive enrollment agreements containing heavy legalese that no lay person would understand,” describes Muth. “One of our goals is to get information to those student veterans before they sign anything and walk them through it, so they know what they’re agreeing to before signing away their GI benefits.”
“Many times these companies are not only targeting veterans, but they often target our most vulnerable veterans,” explains Muth. In addition to not understanding exactly what they are signing, these individuals are often impeded due to their injuries from being able to successfully attend school in the first place at that time. What is really shameful is that when these veterans are further along in their recovery process, some of them might have been able to use those GI Bill benefits to make a successful transition back into civilian life.”
In addition to completing outreach activities to educate the military community, the Veterans Clinic provides free legal advice for those that have been misled or defrauded. “Our first group of legal interns – all upper level USD law students – began work on August 22nd,” states Muth. “All our legal advice is free, but one key difference from the other legal clinics at USD is that the Veterans Clinic doesn’t have a low income requirement. We can assist anyone who qualifies for GI Bill benefits.” Additionally the clinic can even assist people outside of San Diego County.
“One of the difficulties is that the people we are hoping to help don’t always want to come forward and say they’ve been harmed,” comments Muth. “It’s important that they understand that this isn’t their fault; if they’ve been misled, that’s fraud. Moreover, by coming forward now they can also help make sure these companies are held accountable, which will ultimately help protect their fellow service members from being targeted in the future.”
The Veterans Clinic is the most visible aspect of the new USD Initiative to Protect Student Veterans, made possible by the financial support of a family foundation interested in veterans’ education issues. The Initiative’s multi-pronged approach includes research, advocacy and the Veterans Legal Clinic.
For more information on the Veterans Clinic or to schedule a free consultation, call the USD Legal Clinics at (619) 260-7470 or visit our website at http://www.sandiego.edu/law/free_legal_assistance.