VETERANS IN NEED OF LEGAL SERVICES
May is National Military Appreciation Month
Veterans often face a unique set of legal problems on their return from duty, and without the assistance of a trained attorney, many of them are unable to navigate the legal system on their own.
It was with this understanding that Legal Services of the Hudson Valley Veterans and Military Families Project (VMFAP) was created in 2012. The goal of the Project is to provide free legal advice and direct representation to veterans in civil (non-criminal) legal matters. LSHV’s VMFAP fosters the successful reintegration of Veterans into the community by helping them access benefits and services that support their basic human needs – housing, health, safety, and income.
In 2018, LSHV handled 1,061 cases for veterans and military family households throughout our service area and across all practice areas.
In honor of National Military Appreciation Month, we’re sharing stories from our Veterans and Military Families Advocacy Project (VMFAP):
Ted is a veteran who was affected during his service because the water system on his base was contaminated, compromising his immune system and leaving him disabled. Ted later worked in accounting and IT, but lost his job because his medication interfered with his work. He is unable to work today because of his pain and respiratory issues. Ted applied for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits and was informed that he was disabled but his income was too high due to unemployment benefits, even though he wasn’t receiving unemployment at that time. He also applied for Social Security Disability (SSDI) benefits but was denied because the Social Security Administration (SSA) stated that he is not disabled, even though the VA has found that he is 70% disabled.
Ted came to LSHV for assistance in appealing the SSD decision. An LSHV attorney helped Ted obtain doctor’s statements in support of his claim, prepared advocacy materials on Ted’s behalf, helped prepare Ted to testify at the hearing, and represented Ted in the hearing before an administrative law judge for the SSA. Ted’s appeal was denied, but his attorney appealed the decision to the SSA and then to the federal court. In the final appeal, a judge found that Ted was disabled, and he was awarded over $1,700 per month in Social Security Disability benefits and retroactive benefits totaling over $58,000. In total, Ted’s case involved over four years of litigation, but the successful outcome allows him to take care of his health and provide for his family.
Dan is a disabled veteran with PTSD who supports his adult daughter and grandchildren, who live with him. Last year, Dan got a notice of overpayment for his veteran’s benefits and his benefit was reduced by $2,000 of his $2,900 monthly award. The VA claimed that since 2002, Dan had been overpaid by $100 every month, which he was getting for claiming his ex-wife as a dependent, even though Dan had notified the VA about the divorce at the time. Now, Dan found out that he owed $25,000 to the VA and that $2,000 would come out of his benefit each month for over two years to satisfy the debt.
Dan filed for a hardship waiver to request that the amount of the garnishment be lowered, because he depended on the benefit to support himself and his family. His VA representative sent the waiver in on time, but it was not read and stamped before the deadline, so his request was denied. The loss of income caused Dan to miss one month’s rent, after which his landlord referred him to LSHV. Dan’s attorney assisted him in securing financial assistance from a veterans’ agency to pay his rent and requesting that VA stop the garnishment of Dan’s veteran’s benefits. Thanks to his attorney’s advocacy, Dan could pay the rent he owed and remain in his apartment, and continue paying his rent and supporting his family going forward.
Eli is a veteran who has two minor daughters, one of whom is autistic and has other developmental issues. Eli served in the Navy for over 20 years, and returned from service with anxiety and PTSD resulting from a sexual assault he experienced in the military, as well as various physical ailments.
In an effort to return to the workforce after his service, Eli attended a local job fair where he suffered a serious anxiety attack. After assessment from the VA, he was determined to be between 60-70% disabled, and unable to work. Eli was taking turns sleeping on his mother’s and brother’s couches, and unable to support himself. He applied for Social Security Disability benefits but was denied, and then turned to LSHV for help with the appeal. An LSHV attorney represented Eli at the administrative hearing, during which the judge found that Eli is disabled and awarded him SSD benefits. With the advocacy of his attorney, Eli was able to secure a livable income so that he could support himself and his daughters.
Dutchess County Division of Veteran Services, Director