This is a guest blog post from Veterans Legal Corps Fellow Benjamin Butler ('15), of the Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma, Inc. in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
I am currently in my second year of service as an Equal Justice Works AmeriCorps Fellow with Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma, Inc. My fellowship began in Oklahoma City in September 2015 as a program designed to assist veterans and their families. Since the program’s inception, several partnerships have been formed with other organizations in the community to help identify and serve local veterans in a more effective manner.
I chose to join AmeriCorps after spending a year in private practice. Through that experience, I realized that I wanted to spend my career helping individuals who may not have the necessary resources to hire an attorney. I was also very drawn to the idea of helping veterans – my grandfather served in the Marine Corps during Vietnam, my sister served in the Navy, and I have many friends who have served in the military. When I heard about the opportunity to serve both veterans and individuals facing obstacles in accessing the legal system, I knew I had found a program in which I would be passionate and successful.
At the beginning of my second fellowship year, I created a medical-legal partnership (MLP) with the local Veteran’s Affairs Medical Center (VAMC). This partnership has been exciting and fulfilling! Half of my week is spent in-house at the VAMC to identify and provide services to veterans whose legal issues affect their overall health outcomes. The MLP has afforded me the opportunity to interact with a variety of professionals, including social workers, psychologists, and medical personnel, seeking to improve the quality of life for veterans at the VAMC. The program has also created connections with other service providers who may not have been aware of these needs, to ensure that veterans are receiving holistic care.
In addition to direct services, I also give presentations covering basic areas of law frequently faced by my clients, including housing, disability benefits, estate planning, guardianships, and family law. These presentations are designed to help non-legal professionals identify areas and issues of which I can assist. Through these efforts, I have been able to assist veterans suffering from chronic homelessness, who need help applying for or preserving their disability benefits, or who want to create a plan to ensure the well-being of their family. As a professional, I have gained insight into the need for a more holistic approach to the needs of veterans and their families, and the cooperation needed to accomplish such approach.