Skadden Fellow Nevah Jones ’22 to Focus on Serving Fellow Veterans
Nevah Jones, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel, is military down to the marrow, including her damaged knees — the toll of 20 years in aircraft maintenance.
Jones, a third-year University of Virginia School of Law student, has won a Skadden Fellowship to apply both her legal training and personal experiences to help fellow veterans file their own health claims with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Her fellowship, announced Tuesday, starts in the fall of 2022 at the Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy in North Carolina.
The Skadden Fellows program is one of the most competitive and prestigious public interest fellowships in the country. The program will fund Jones’ salary at the center for two years.
For one part of her project, Jones will be training physicians at Atrium Health on what it takes to provide legally adequate opinions for veterans in disability benefit cases. Atrium operates about 1,500 care locations in North Carolina and Georgia, states where military bases are prevalent.
“There’s a significant gap in what’s medically adequate and what’s legally adequate,” Jones said. “I will help low-income veterans get more credible evidence for their claims.”
She said civilian doctors “might not be aware of a whole host of requirements for evidence.”
In addition to having filed her own claims, Jones worked last summer as an intern at the VA. The experience was enlightening, she said: “I was able to see a lot of cases thrown out or remanded because the VA was disregarding the evidence the veteran was bringing to the table.”
She added, “I have had my own challenges with the VA in trying to get my disability rating.”
The level of disability, as determined by the VA rating, dictates the level of government compensation for care.
Jones earned 20 military decorations for her service, including eight campaign medals for serving overseas. She participated in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and helped support South Korea’s autonomy from North Korea, among other U.S. military priorities.
Although she did not intern with the Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy, she found the center to be quickly receptive to her proposal. Building on her suggestion to help with veterans’ health claims, the center added another, more specific component to the work. They also want her to help vets who have experienced racial animus in the military.
“Either they ended up with a less-than-honorable discharge or ended up with a mental health condition that resulted in medical trauma,” she said. “It has to be service-connected.”
Jones was deputy group commander of the 366th Maintenance Group, based in Mountain Home, Idaho, when she retired. She is the first in her family to pursue postsecondary education. She earned an M.A. in national security and strategic studies at the Naval War College, an M.A. in human resource development at Webster University and a B.S. at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.
In her journey through law school, she benefited from the guidance of faculty and staff — foremost, she said, being Assistant Dean for Public Service Annie Kim ’99. Kim serves as both the director of the Program in Law and Public Service and director of the Mortimer Caplin Public Service Center.
Kim advised Jones on her career plans when she began classes at UVA Law and has subsequently taught her in a public interest skills and advocacy course. This year, Jones is Kim’s research assistant.
“Dean Annie Kim has been my guiding hand,” Jones said. “She is phenomenal, and you can put that in all caps.”
Jones submitted her Skadden proposal with input from Kim and Director of Public Service Amanda Yale; former recipient Cory Sagduyu ’18; and Legal Aid Justice Center attorneys Amy Walters ’09 and Michaela Lieberman, who teach the Health and Disability Law Clinic.
“The minute I met Nevah as a determined 1L, I knew she was a force to be reckoned with,” Kim said. “That her incredible accomplishments, talent and drive are being recognized now by Skadden doesn’t surprise me one bit. Nevah deserves this honor in a way that few people do. I can’t wait to see what she does in this role.”
From the beginning, Jones has known she wanted to help veterans with her law degree. The question was how. While her initial focus was appellate litigation, it was through the clinic that Jones realized how much she enjoyed direct client service.
As a fellow, Jones would be eligible for the Law School’s Loan Forgiveness Program. However, the Montgomery GI Bill has paid for 100% of her schooling.
The Skadden Fellowship Foundation, launched in 1988 as part of the 40th anniversary of the Skadden, Arps law firm, has funded more than 900 fellowships. According to the foundation’s website, 90% of recipients remain in public service, “and almost all of them continue working on the same issues they addressed in their original Fellowship projects.”
Jones’ family mostly lives in the Chesapeake, Virginia, area. But Jones said she is excited to return to Charlotte, where she lived for a year before law school. She said it’s the place that feels closest to a hometown to her now.
“I have lived all over the world, so I didn’t have that one place to call home,” Jones said. As a sports fan who also wanted a walkable place to live, “I made a list of what I would look for, and Charlotte was the one city that ticked all the boxes.”
Founded in 1819, the University of Virginia School of Law is the second-oldest continuously operating law school in the nation. Consistently ranked among the top law schools, Virginia is a world-renowned training ground for distinguished lawyers and public servants, instilling in them a commitment to leadership, integrity and community service.