Why Legal Help For Veterans?
Overcoming Legal Barriers strengthens veterans in recovery.
What service do homeless veterans say they need the most? It’s not housing, medical care, or even mental health care or food – it’s access to a lawyer. That’s because legal issues such as problems with a landlord or difficulty securing VA disability compensation can stand in the way of a veteran’s access to stable housing, affordable healthcare, and suitable income.
Connecticut Veterans Legal Center provides FREE representation to veterans recovering from homelessness and mental illness.
CVLC Clients Tell Their Stories
Mr. D became a client of CVLC after attending a workshop CVLC coordinated to help veterans expunge their criminal records. Mr. D had multiple legal problems dating back over 30 years ago, stemming from arrests due to drug possession, weapons possession, and “doctor shopping.” In the months following the workshop, both CVLC and staff from Statewide Legal Services (SLS), an organization that provides free legal services for non-criminal legal problems to low-income state residents, worked with him on gathering documentation about his criminal offense, organizing them and writing a narrative for the circumstances of each incident. CVLC attorneys helped the veteran’s references write appropriate letters in support of his application and reviewed the full application before Mr. D sent it to SLS, who submitted it to the state Board of Pardons and Paroles on Mr. D’s behalf. It took a year for the state to set a hearing with the Board of Pardons and Paroles. Attorneys from CVLC and SLS attended the hearing with Mr. D and the board granted Mr. D a pardon without further questioning. In Mr. D’s own words, “Their support, encouragement and technical assistance made the difference. I now have peace of mind. Within a year all my criminal offenses will be banished from my record. It’s incredible. I never thought it would happen and didn’t think it was even possible. All it took was knowledge, persistence, determination and support. All veterans need these legal services.”
Ms. B sought help from CVLC in the spring of 2011, when she faced being kicked out of her apartment and left homeless in Waterbury with her little girl.
Ms. B, 33, served in the U.S. Army for over eight years and is a single mother of a 5-year-old kindergartener, a happy child with black curly hair and hazel eyes, whom Ms. B lovingly calls her princess. “She goes to bed happy and wakes up happy. She’s truly a blessing,” Ms. B said. After falling just one month behind on her rent due because of hefty repair bills for her truck in the previous months, she found an eviction notice. “We were,” she said, “one foot out the door.” I just can’t do this again to my daughter, Ms. B. thought. The last time they were homeless, they slept in the truck. Now it was gone – the truck was back in the shop and Ms. B didn’t have enough money to pay for the truck or her rent. CVLC connected Ms. B to a volunteer attorney in Waterbury. When Ms. B told her attorney that she couldn’t get it together to get another place, her attorney replied, “Let’s see what we can do to keep you where you are.” The attorney told the landlord that Ms. B was an Iraq War combat veteran, that she had this unexpected bill that caused her to fall behind on her rent, and that she was deeply sorry. The attorney came up with a six-month plan for Ms. B to pay him back. The landlord agreed. With the aid of CVLC and its volunteer attorney, Ms. B. and her daughter were able to stay housed. “For them to come along on their white horse and help my daughter and I, a simple thank you is not enough,” Ms. B said. This Iraqi vet knows what she would do if she still had her truck. She would drive right over to her attorney’s office and say, “Nice to meet you, and thank you.”
Thanks in part to 20 years of mental health care at VA CT, Mr. J owns his own home and works several jobs despite suffering from chronic schizophrenia. However, poor money management threatened Mr. J’s hard-earned stability when missed mortgage payments caused his bank to foreclose on his mortgage. Although Mr. J has regular income, in his words, he was “not paying enough and not paying on time. I didn’t know how to manage my money.” Mr. J met with CVLC staff, who helped him organize a jumble of mortgage documents and bills. Realizing the severity of the situation, CVLC connected Mr. J to an experienced local attorney to help him keep his home. The attorney immediately established a reduced amount and quick payoff of the veteran’s second mortgage. His associate then worked for months to get the bank to approve a mortgage modification to allow the veteran to stay housed. The modification required a substantial down-payment and six months of on-time payments. CVLC and his attorney worked with the veteran, his clinician, and his supported employment counselor on a weekly and sometimes daily basis to assure that his payments were made in a timely manner. Working with CVLC to save his home inspired Mr. J to get back into weekly group support meetings so that he would have a case manager to help him stay on top of his bills. “Mr. J has worked hard to build an independent life and manage his disability and I’m so proud that we could help him maintain his autonomy,” said CVLC’s Executive Director Margaret Middleton.
When Mr. K first came to see CVLC Executive Director Margaret Middleton, he was in crisis. Mental illness and substance abuse were destroying his life – he had lost his job, separated from his family and become homeless. Pending criminal charges prevented him from returning to his job, and worries about his disintegrating marriage took all of his time and attention. CVLC took on both issues to give Mr. K support while he focused on sobriety and mental health. CVLC represented Mr. K and worked with a state social worker to get his criminal charges dismissed. With his criminal issues resolved, CVLC helped Mr. K legally end his marriage, which was constantly fraught with confrontation, conflict, and accusations. CVLC enlisted a volunteer attorney from Mr. K’s community who protected Mr. K’s interests when Mr. K was too distraught to do so himself. Now, recently divorced and free of a criminal record, Mr. K is getting on with his life. He has moved out of emergency housing and into supportive transitional housing for homeless veterans, and he is thinking about going back to school to become a pastor. Mr. K said, “Most of us are very good at getting ourselves into trouble but not good at getting ourselves out of it, representing ourselves. That’s why we need CVLC.”