Michael assisted homeless and at-risk veterans in rural Maryland by providing civil legal aid and advocacy on Veterans Affairs (VA) benefits and other issues through the innovative use of technology linking pro bono attorneys to rural veterans.
Rural homeless or at-risk veterans continue to face incredible hurdles in obtaining the VA benefits and relief to which they are entitled. Accordingly, veterans comprise a greater proportion of the homeless population in rural Maryland than in urban Maryland, yet no pro bono services existed that were targeted at serving rural homeless veterans in the state. The absence of services coupled with the lack of mass transit meant that rural homeless and at-risk veterans were cut off from access to civil legal aid. The project, the Rural Veterans Legal Assistance Project, brought pro bono legal assistance to them. Michael used lay volunteers and Skype to connect urban, central Maryland pro bono attorneys to homeless or at-risk veterans in rural intake centers. The project not only helped rural homeless veterans receive the benefits they are entitled to, but will also brought visibility to an otherwise forgotten rural population.
In the past two years, Michael has:
- Assisted 94 homeless or at-risk veterans with Veteran benefits issues and criminal record expungement—most would not have had access to civil legal aid without the project
- Opened two permanent legal clinics in rural Maryland, covering the high-need geographic regions of Cecil Co., Harford Co., and Southern Maryland
- Trained 104 attorneys in VA benefits law and furthered the Maryland Bar’s involvement pro bono involvement in assisting homeless or at-risk veterans.
Since 2001, over 100,000 veterans have been discharged under “Other than Honorable” or “Less than Honorable” conditions. These discharge characterizations bar veterans from receiving VA health and disability benefits as well as the GI Bill. Veterans often believe discharge upgrades are easily obtainable, but denial rates remain high across all service branches in large part due to veterans submitting incorrect or incomplete applications and failing to develop compelling cases with legal assistance.
In the past two years, Eleyse has:
- Provided advice to 85 veterans through the clinic, bi-monthly Military Mondays Starbucks program, and the online certificate course
- Recorded educational videos to serve as instruction regarding administrative and medical separations and discharge upgrade advocacy for students in the online certificate course
- Established connections on both civilian and military fronts with people working in various aspects of military separations and discharge upgrades
- Synthesized extensive research and knowledge learned through direct work on cases of inequitable administrative and medical separations requiring discharge upgrades to create a comprehensive set of educational training materials
- Developed a web-based training module on military separations and discharge upgrade advocacy
Now that the Fellowship is complete, Eleyse plans to continue advocating for service members and veterans in the Hampton Roads area
Gregory built the capacity of nonprofits through a community-driven, transactional legal service model in order to help transform economically challenged communities in Westchester County, New York.
Westchester County, New York has one of the largest income gaps in the country, with significant disparities between wealthy and racially homogeneous communities and economically challenged and racially heterogeneous communities. 18.3% of Westchester’s black residents and 19.4% of its Latinx residents live in poverty, compared to a 6% poverty rate among white residents. Many low-income residents rely on local nonprofit organizations to help meet their basic needs, making it crucial that the nonprofits themselves are strong and well-run. This Project endeavors to help transform Westchester’s neediest communities by providing comprehensive transactional legal assistance to existing and newly-forming nonprofits in economically challenged municipalities.
Gregory developed a workshop curriculum to educate emerging non-profits on the basics of running a successful organization. In total he provided legal transactional services to 18 non-profit groups which served 6 towns in Westchester County. Now These groups provide programming for their communities that included: literacy and language education, emergency shelters for the homeless, S.T.E.M. education, mental health assistance, programs to combat hunger, volunteer services, youth and family services, Autism awareness and family support, and support for local artists.
Following his Fellowship, Gregory is starting a solo practice to work with entrepreneurs and creatives in New York. Part of his practice will focus on helping low-income clients through a “low-bono” service model.
Jenna created a nationwide Medical-Legal Partnership to obtain medical/psychological assessments and records review to support veterans’ applications for benefits before military correction boards and the Departments of Veterans Affairs.
Veterans’ applications for disability benefits and discharge upgrades frequently hinge on a corroborating psychiatric or medical opinion. Unfortunately, many veterans do not have access to high quality, low-cost medical care to obtain an expert opinion in support of their application for benefits or records correction. A nationwide Medical-Legal Partnership enables practitioners and advocates to identify professionals willing to work with these veterans and provide these necessary opinions for a reasonable, reduced-price fee.
During her Fellowship, Jenna:
- Created partnerships with 27 individuals and clinics who agreed to be part of the Medical-Legal Partnership and provide expert opinions in veterans’ cases
- Placed 35 cases with experts for medical opinions to bolster applications for military medical retirements, upgrades in veterans’ characterization of discharge, and disability compensation from the Department of Veterans Affairs for survivors of Military Sexual Trauma
- Provided brief service and advice to 147 veterans and full representation to another 144 veterans for assistance with applications for military medical retirements and discharge upgrades
- Developed a Medical-Legal Partnership Training Manual, Discharge Upgrade, and Wrongful Personality Disorder Discharges, and contributed to a chapter in a treatise on veterans law regarding discharge upgrades
Following her Fellowship, Jenna has stayed on at NVLSP as a staff attorney. She assists with applications for medical retirements and records corrections, and continues to monitor and work with the Medical-Legal Partnership she developed during her Fellowship. She also continues to train and mentor pro bono attorneys assisting veterans with applications for medical retirement or discharge upgrades or other matters.