2014 Equal Justice Works Fellow, Justine Pelham

Justine Pelham

City, State: New York, New York
Issue area: Veterans' Rights, Public Benefits/Welfare Reform
Sponsors: 21st Century Fox

The Project

Justine advocated for veterans who were improperly denied public benefits by running a weekly full service legal help-desk at the VA’s Brooklyn Healthcare Center and leading a network of law students that provided representation at administrative hearings.

The Inspiration

Need Addressed By Project: 
The average wait in New York for veterans filing a Disability Compensation claim with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is 642 days. For low-income veterans with PTS this delay is harrowing. Securing public benefits is a crucial intermediary measure for veterans while they transition back into civilian life and await decisions on VA and Social Security claims. There are over 225,000 veterans in New York City alone and this population is growing. Without the safety net of Public Assistance, effective community reintegration becomes impossible as veterans face substantial difficulty accessing housing and treatment.
Fellowship Highlights: 
In the past two years, Justine has:
• Established a medical-legal partnership with the VA-NY Harbor Healthcare System
• Conducted client intakes for 300 veterans at the VA legal help-desk with student volunteers
• Supervised, trained, and coordinated over 60 student advocates who successfully represented veterans in administrative hearings
• Recovered over $150,000 in lost benefits for veterans and their families.
Where are they now?: 
Now that the Fellowship is complete, Justine plans to:
• Continue providing direct legal assistance as well as impact litigation to help veterans in the community who are struggling with food insecurity, stable housing, and inadequate healthcare.

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