Mr. Bradley, a 74-year old disabled man, lived with his mother until her death in 2003. Following her passing, his two brothers, ages 69 and 72, moved into the house with him. Subsequently, Mr. Bradley received a condolence letter from Medi-Cal, which went on to demand more than $20,000 for health care services received by his mother. In the event they could not pay the amount, the letter noted that the state would put a lien on their home.
The family home was owned jointly by the two younger brothers and their late mother. Living on a fixed income, the brothers could not afford to sell the house, as rent would be too high for them. They turned to LAFLA for help and were put in touch with paralegal Roseland Williams. Williams filed a hardship waiver on their behalf. It was subsequently approved by the state, and the brothers were allowed to keep their home.
Yolanda Arias, LAFLA Managing Attorney, recently obtained two significant victories for nineteen year-old clients seeking to retain their Social Security disability benefits. Both clients had been receiving Social Security benefits due to their disabilities since they were children. However, when they turned 18, these disabled clients (like all other recipients) had to submit an essentially new application to Social Security to prove that they still qualified for benefits as adults. As the Social Security website puts it: "Each person who files a disability claim is responsible for providing medical evidence showing he or she has an impairment(s) and the severity of the impairment(s)."
Yolanda commented that these cases require intensive medical evidence and the burden is placed on the claimant to show their condition is so severe that they cannot work. Both clients needed assistance preparing their evidence, including obtaining the requisite medical documentation from competent medical and mental health providers.
Stephen, one of these two young men, has Neurofibromatosis, commonly known as elephant man disease, a disorder that damages the nervous system and causes tumors to form on nerve tissue. He literally has thousands of tumors throughout his body, including on his spine and neck, that affect his speech and create severe pain. He had surgery to remove a tumor on his neck, damaging his nerves to the point where he lost all sensation in his left hand. Stephen suffers from depression as a result of his physical condition. There is no cure for Neurofibromatosis and no way to stop or slow down the growth of tumors in his body. Despite these disabilities, Social Security initially concluded that Stephen could work.
That is when Yolanda stepped in to help prepare Stephen’s appeal. She contacted his doctors, reviewed the reports, communicated with his case worker and obtained the documentation and report necessary to demonstrate that Stephen’s impairments drastically affect his ability to function in a work setting. Stephen, with Yolanda’s representation, won and overturned the denial at the first level of appeal, which is extremely rare. The hearing officer found the evidence to be so strong during the conference that she did not even require a hearing.The other young client, John, suffers from schizophrenia that causes frequent auditory and visual hallucinations.
After seeing his classmate institutionalized, John feared that he would meet the same fate and, therefore, tried his best to appear "normal," downplaying his disability. Accordingly, he told doctors that he was fine. Social Security determined that despite his long-standing history and documented, ongoing daily hallucinations, he was not disabled. Yolanda stepped in to obtain a mental health provider’s evaluation and report regarding John’s ability to work. John’s case involved a significant amount of work with mental health providers to determine the reason that John had tried to conceal the true extent of his disability. John eventually won his case on appeal.
These two cases demonstrate how critical it is for our clients to have an advocate in this process – especially when they become adults and have to basically prove their own case all over again to Social Security. Many of our clients do not know what documentation they need to ask for, and it can be very difficult to mount their own legal case. Yolanda and other government benefits advocates work to ensure that medical providers and mental health experts supply accurate and necessary documentation of our clients’ disabilities so that they can obtain the benefits to which they are legally entitled.
Kim Luu-Ng, a staff attorney in LAFLA’S Torture Survivors Project/Immigration Unit, secured a life-changing and rather miraculous victory: winning asylum for her client ("Ms. T"), a Cambodian national and a survivor of the Cambodian Genocide orchestrated by the former Khmer Rouge. The client fled Cambodia and entered the U.S. in 2002 on a visitor’s visa; years later, she and her husband were charged with being removable for overstaying their visitors’ visas. In 2007, Ms. T’s husband was granted withholding of removal based on persecution he suffered because of his high level work for the U.S. Defense Attaché in Cambodia. Withholding of removal simply allows an immigrant to live and work lawfully in the U.S. without any path to permanent residence and citizenship.
Ms. T then filed her own application for asylum and withholding of removal based on her fear of persecution by the Cambodian government due to her husband’s work in Cambodia with the U.S. Defense Attaché. Because of Kim’s innovative legal argument, Ms. T obtained asylum as the derivative (despite the fact that her husband had obtained the less protective status of withholding as the principal). With this form of relief, her entire family of eight, including five children and her husband who originally did not receive asylum, will all receive asylum. Ms. T will also reunite with her daughter in Cambodia after being separated for over eleven years. The U.S. government had deported her daughter when she was merely ten years old.
According to Kim, "The key to our victory was asserting the Khmer Rouge Tribunal as a changed circumstance and the Ninth Circuit case Vahora v. Holder." (641 F.3d 1038 (9th Cir. 2009)). Last summer Kim developed this legal theory that argues that the ongoing joint tribunal of the royal Cambodian Government and the United Nations and the conviction of Mr. Kaing Guek Eav in July 2010 for war crimes (including ordering the torture and murder of 14,000 Cambodians) formed the basis for a changed circumstance necessitating asylum for Ms. T. Kim obtained key expert declarations (including by one of the prosecutors against the Khmer Rouge) and demonstrated that the war Tribunal has cultivated a tense political climate in Cambodia, as many former Khmer Rouge leaders are still in positions of power today. This changed circumstance generated a new risk of harm to Ms. T because she possesses highly sensitive information regarding a number of high level government officials who are former Khmer Rouge – information that directly implicates their culpability in the genocide and therefore poses risk of harm to her. With regard to the Tribunal itself, international co-prosecutor Andrew Cayley told the AFP (Agence France Press) news agency in a recent interview, "There hasn’t been a case as large and complex as this since Nuremberg," referring to the historic Nazi trials after World War II.
Ms. T’s personal survival story is compelling and makes her asylum victory that much more meaningful. At a very early age, Ms. T was separated from her family and enslaved by the Khmer Rouge at a child slave camp, where she was forced to perform slave labor under threat of violence. Ms. T fell seriously ill and suffered from constant starvation. She witnessed people being tied up and dragged away to be executed and then saw their bodies decay in the river. By the time Ms. T was liberated, a large number of her family members had been murdered; her twenty year old brother was executed after the KHMER Rouge caught him reading a book, for example. To this day, Ms. T is unable to erase from her memory the horrors she suffered at the hands of the Khmer Rouge, many of whom continue to hold positions of power in Cambodia today. Ms. T hopes that the Khmer Rouge, responsible for the murder of more than a million Cambodians, will face justice for their crimes against her people. Thanks to the dedication and innovative strategy employed by Kim to secure her asylum, Ms. T and her family will not have to face persecution at the hands of the Cambodian government.
Noncitizen residents of Los Angeles County who are victims of domestic violence and other serious crimes and hold a U or T nonimmigrant visa will now be eligible for county health-care benefits thanks to the work of attorneys in LAFLA’s Government Benefits Unit (GBU). On behalf of LAFLA client Ms. A and with the support of Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles County and Maternal and Child Health Access, LAFLA’s advocates successfully challenged the County’s policy on eligibility for its Ability to Pay Plan (ATP) and Outpatient Reduced-Cost Simplified Application (ORSA) programs, both of which offer medical care and prescriptions at County hospitals and clinics at low or no cost.
Ms. A, originally a client of LAFLA’s Asian-Pacific Islander Outreach Unit (API), was severely abused by her husband. The advocates in the API unit assisted her in obtaining a U nonimmigrant status based on her victimization and cooperation with law enforcement. The U visa status was created by the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000 and was designed to provide lawful status to noncitizen crime victims who are assisting or are willing to assist the authorities in investigating crimes, including domestic violence. Ms. A endured years of abuse, and, as result of her traumatic experiences, she suffered from health problems that made it difficult to obtain stable employment. Because she had no health insurance, Ms. A sought medical care at a county-run emergency room. She quickly found herself facing thousands of dollars in medical bills and applied for the ORSA program with the understanding that the only requirement was that she be a resident of Los Angeles County. To prove her residency Ms. A presented the county workers with a passport that showed her as a holder of the U Visa. The County denied Ms. A’s admission to the program. Distraught, Ms. A reported the denial to LAFLA’s attorneys who then checked the County’s policy and found that it had mistakenly classified the U visa, as well as the T visa (issued to victims of human trafficking), in the same category as temporary visas, like the student visa. The U visa and the T visa are in fact not temporary visas and actually allow the holder not just to establish residence in the U.S. but also to follow a specific pathway to achieve lawful permanent residency (Green Card) status.
It appeared that the County made its policy based on a wrong interpretation of the U and T visas. LAFLA GBU attorneys (Managing Attorney Yolanda Arias and Staff Attorney Josh Taylor) sent a demand letter in December of 2011 to the director of the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services stating their conclusion that the law was enacted with the intent that a U visa holder would be eligible for state and local benefits, including health-care benefits, and citing State law SB 1569: “Non-citizen victims of trafficking, domestic violence, and other serious crimes, as defined in subdivision (b), shall be eligible fo health care services under Part 6.2 (commencing with Section 12693) of Division 2 of the Insurance Code, to the same extent as individuals who are admitted to the United Sates as Refugees.” The attorneys went on to state that, “Although the health-care program specifically referenced by this statute is a statewide program (Healthy Families), it is clear from the Legislative intent underlying this statute that its extension of health-care benefits to U visa holder and certain trafficking victims includes county health-care programs as well.”
After receiving the letter from LAFLA’s attorneys, the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services reviewed federal law in reference to both the U visa and T visa holders and the Welfare and Institutions Code Section 18945, which expresses the intent of the California legislature to provide benefits to these two classifications of individuals. As a result of its review, the county agreed in February of this year that it would be proper to extend its ATP and ORSA program benefits to Los Angeles County residents who possess the U and T visas. This was an important and critical decision not only for LAFLA client Ms. A, but also for the number of other immigrant survivors of crimes who hold these visas and can now get the medical help and support they need as they continue on their journey to recovery and healing from the trauma they suffered.
By LAFLA Staff Attorney Nicole Perez
Navigating the VA (Department of Veterans Affairs) claims system is inherently complicated—as a federal administrative program, there are multiples statutes, regulations, policies, and court decisions that affect a veteran’s ability to not only obtain benefits, but to also obtain the full amount of benefits they justly deserve. The claims process takes an incredibly long time. Each of the cases that I share with you below took over one year from initial application to final disposition. All three of them had been unjustly denied benefits in the past because they were unable to gather and submit the documentation necessary to substantiate their claim—and that brings up the other issue: the VA system is overwhelmingly paper-heavy. Although the VA is required to make a good faith effort to obtain a veteran’s medical and military personnel records, the veteran has the heavy burden of submitting documentation to support his or her claim. Since most military personnel and medical records fail to include relevant information about a veteran’s in-service injuries or experiences, veterans are required to find “needles in a haystack” in order to win. Imagine trying to obtain benefits for an incident that occurred during the Vietnam Era over 40 years ago… It’s no easy task and most older veterans simply become too frustrated and give up without the support of an advocate. LAFLA sees a lot of veterans from this era and the three recent success stories below vividly testify to the frustration and stress of the process of seeking VA benefits.
By LAFLA Staff Attorney Nicole Perez
Mrs. J is an elderly and blind widow of a Vietnam veteran. Sadly, though her husband died from Agent Orange poisoning, he had been consistently denied benefits while he was alive. With her low income, she was facing foreclosure on her home and was trying without success to qualify for a reverse mortgage. After 1-1/2 years of hard work, LAFLA Consumer advocates Zoe Yuzna and Beverly D’Antignac have successfully prevented the foreclosure and I have succeeded in getting the VA to grant her $45,000 in retroactive benefits and nearly $1,500 in ongoing monthly benefits, which will help guarantee Mrs. J financial security in her remaining years.
By LAFLA Staff Attorney Nicole Perez
Mr. C is a Vietnam veteran I met at a homeless shelter at the VA, and I have been representing him to obtain VA benefits for multiple physical and mental disabilities. I learned this week that he was granted 100% disability benefits totaling $2,769/month and will be receiving approximately $55,000 in retroactive benefits (the actual amount is to be determined). Although he recently moved into housing thanks to a VASH (Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing) voucher, he was in constant fear of eviction because he was unable to pay his bills with his small income (he was only receiving about $350/month). He is now overjoyed and will be able to remain in his housing without fear.
The "Nunes" family dreamed of owning their own business. After deciding to go into commercial trash-hauling, they contacted their city government in order to complete the required documents. One was a franchise agreement -- a thick legal document, written in English. However, since their primary language was Spanish, making sense of this intimidating document was nearly impossible. After contacting Texas RioGrande Legal Aid (TRLA), Mrs. Nunes was referred to its Legal Assistance to Microenterprises Project. A member of the project assisted the Nunes family by explaining and reviewing the franchise agreement and ultimately helping her complete the application. With the assistance of TRLA, the Nunes family was able to submit the required forms to the city and obtain the franchise agreement. Today, they are open for business.
"Connie," who had survived years of domestic violence, had finally obtained a restraining order that forced her husband out of the home. She was ready to move on with her new life, with her granddaughter by her side. However, after being liberated, Connie was severely injured at work by a falling piece of heavy machinery. She suffered severe arm and neck trauma and two herniated disks, confining her to a wheel chair. "I was in bed for two years and couldn't move," she says. "It turned out that the injury caused other physical problems. I could not afford a wheelchair so I went to Iowa Legal Aid for help after Title 19 denied my claim." Teresa Jones of Iowa Legal Aid became Connie's tireless advocate. "I went to see her at her apartment to sign papers," Jones recalls, "and was shocked to find her using an office chair to get around her apartment. In order to walk without the chair she had to hang on to the wall."
Jones contacted Connie's physician for a full report and promptly submitted it to the Iowa Department of Human Services (IDHS), which had previously denied her claim. This time IDHS responded by granting the claim -- not just for any wheelchair, but for a new electric wheelchair. "I love it. I can get around now," Connie says. "[My granddaughter and I] try to go to the movies every Friday night. We can do things together, and it is really nice. If I hadn't had this legal representation from Iowa Legal Aid, I would have been squashed. It has been great to have the freedom and peace of mind."
Katrina was struggling to get off welfare and gain employment at a stable job to support her two young children. However, because of the geographic size of Miami-Dade County, where she lives and works, she needed a reliable automobile to reduce her three hour commute on public transportation and remain employed.
While Florida state law allowed welfare recipients in such a situation to purchase an automobile, there was no formal application form or procedure for Katrina to submit her request. Therefore, she asked her supportive services caseworker to provide her with an automobile. Following several months of waiting, her request was verbally denied.
Katrina then turned to Legal Services of Greater Miami (LSGMI), who agreed to find her transportation. LSGMI found that not only was there no application form or procedure, but there were also no policies or procedures to guarantee due process protections for people like Katrina. As a result, LSGMI filed an action in the Florida Third District Court of Appeals. Due to negotiations, Katrina eventually received $8,500 toward the purchase of an automobile, as allowed by law. Additionally, LSGMI assisted in developing an application process for others in Katrina's situation, which included standards to evaluate requests, and a detailed client-accessible grievance procedure.
"Anne," legally blind and suffering from a multitude of other physical disabilities, received a notice from the IRS informing her that her income-tax refund had been intercepted by the Social Security Administration (SSA) as a result of an overpayment of benefits. Puzzled, she contacted Wyoming Legal Services.
An attorney was able to guide Anne through the long dispute that ensued, ending when an administrative law judge found that the SSA had failed to provide proper notice to her regarding her alleged overpayment, and that, in the end, there simply was no overpayment of benefits. As it turned out, SSA had failed to subtract her Impairment Related Work Expenses from her job wages, which were within the limit allowed by federal regulations.
Anne was reimbursed for her income-tax refund and benefits lost during the dispute. Her continuing benefits were reinstated, affording her much-needed peace of mind and allowing her to concentrate on her job and day-to-day care for her elderly mother.
"Allison" was 35 years old when she plummeted to the ground from a three-story building. She was immediately rushed to the hospital and underwent extensive surgery. But despite the best efforts of her surgeons, Allison suffered permanent damage to her vertebrae. The orthopedic department provided her with a wheelchair and informed her that she might need a titanium cage to support her back.
Just as she was reeling from her new debilitating condition, Allison was notified by the Department of Human Services (DHS) that she was being terminated from general assistance program benefits. Despite the vociferous objections of her personal physician, the DHS doctor thought Allison could handle working up to 30 hours per week.
She contacted the Legal Aid Society of Hawaii in desperate need of help. Despite being represented by Legal Aid at her DHS hearing and providing detailed records concerning her debilitating condition, the DHS Hearings Officers determined that she was, in fact, able to work, and her benefits were terminated.
Legal Aid was also representing Allison in applying for Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Interestingly enough, she was granted SSI benefits, despite being required to prove a higher level of disability for SSI than for general assistance. Thankfully, Allison's income was not interrupted during this process due to assistance of Legal Aid.
"Debra" was raising four children, ages five, six, seven, and nine, by herself when the unthinkable happened. Her estranged husband had never attempted to pay child support and had never gone to court to establish his parental rights. Yet, he filed for a protection order against Debra, alleging that she had abused the children. Based on his false accusations and misstatements, the father obtained an order granting him temporary custody. Debra contacted Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services (SMRLS) in a panic because the children had never been without their mother for a night, and the father had a history of abusive behavior.
Despite the fact that Debra contacted the office only one day before the hearing, an attorney from SMRLS was able to obtain documentary evidence from a domestic abuse shelter disproving the allegations. Her attorney immediately filed a motion for immediate return of the children, attaching numerous exhibits that supported Debra's case. The pleadings were drafted only two hours before the scheduled hearing and were served right before the hearing began. The court found the evidence compelling, dismissed the protection order, and returned Debra's children to her.
Juanita and Ron lived on a couple of acres of land near Portland, Ore., where they owned and operated an auto repair shop. Ron did the repairs while Juanita handled the bookkeeping and took care of the kids. In 1996 Ron had two heart attacks, leaving him weakened and unable to work the same long hours he had in the past. Juanita tried to keep the auto shop going using hired mechanics, but they lost customers who had been loyal to Ron. Eventually, the couple lost their business and their home, causing Anita to suffer a heart attack as well.
At first, the Oregon Health Plan covered the couple's medical bills and prescription drugs, but a state budget shortfall in 2003 caused them to lose all of their benefits. Juanita only learned after being charged $140 for one of her seven prescriptions, an amount she could not afford to pay without a steady income.
Eventually, Juanita contacted Legal Aid Services of Oregon, whose attorneys were able to restore the couple's medical coverage, allowing them to purchase the prescription drugs they desperately needed. "When the attorney called, it was the best phone call I ever had," Juanita said. "I was sitting there with a heart rate of 120 and I couldn't afford to pick up the medicine. It was a life saver." Ron agreed: "Just knowing that legal aid is out there to help gives you more confidence so that you can breathe a little bit easier."
"Amy" was in junior high school when she fell victims to a vicious physical assault that left her unable to care for herself. After the attack, an attorney with Legal Aid of Western Missouri (LAWMO) represented Amy during the time she was under the jurisdiction of the Family Court to ensure she received services to which she was legally entitled from the Division of Family Services and the Missouri Department of Mental Health.
By the time Amy enrolled in high school, she lived in her own apartment and was receiving 24-hour-a-day care from the state because her family was unable and unwilling to assist her. When the state sought to eliminate support services, LAWMO protected Amy's right to receive proper medical care and support services. LAWMO also ensured that she received the special education and related services she was entitled to under federal law.
After graduating from high school, Amy wanted to attend college. Thanks to LAWMO she received state support to help pay for college. Faced with incredible odds, Amy did not give up. She graduated in 2002 and was selected for a one-year Missouri State Archives Internship in African-American History. Amy now hopes to attend law school so that she can help protect the rights of others.
In October, a community advocate at an area mental health hospital and a shelter caseworker contacted Legal Aid’s Immigration Survivors of Domestic Abuse Project on behalf of Isabel, an elderly Chilean woman. The woman was in a shelter having been released from a mental health hospital. Isabel had attempted suicide earlier in the summer. Her US citizen daughter had her institutionalized three months later. Although Isabel speaks only Spanish, the court held the commitment hearing without an interpreter; they quickly realized that Isabel was a victim of elder abuse and exploitation by her daughter.
The hospital released her to the shelter and called Legal Aid Immigration Project. Staff reviewed her situation and determined Isabel might benefit from new immigration regulations for the “U” visa immigrants who are the victims of crime and are cooperating with the police. While in the hospital and shelter, police reports had been filed detailing the years of theft, intimidation and abuse Isabel had suffered. With an application for a “U” visa, she could start the process of attaining legal status and independence from her daughter.
As a result of her Legal Aid attorney’s work, Isabel now has Employment Authorization, a safe and secure apartment, home health care, Medicaid coverage, and the necessary public benefits to live on her own.
After Daycare terminated SM, she applied for unemployment compensation benefits. The Department of Industrial Relations (DIR) denied the claim, saying Daycare was affiliated with a church and not covered by the Unemployment Compensation Act.
SM appealed, but she lost her case before a hearing officer. She appealed to the Board of Appeals, and then came to LSA. LSA spoke to the pastor of the church, who emphatically said that Daycare was not associated with the church. LSA tried to supplement SM’s appeal to the Board, but learned that a decision had already been made denying the appeal request. LSA then contacted DIR and began to question the investigation that led to the decision to deny. DIR’s General Counsel said that DIR would send LSA the report, but then later said there was no report. Following several more conversations between LSA and DIR, DIR’s General Counsel notified LSA that Daycare withdrew its declaration that SM was associated with a church and agreed to provide wages for all employment. This eliminated the need for SM to file an appeal to the Circuit Court, as all claims made against the employer were being changed from “Not Covered Employment” to “Covered Employment.” SM received her unemployment compensation. Th
is decision will impact other employees who were previously affected by the false declaration that Daycare was associated with a church. They will probably have their disqualifications removed and be granted benefits, too.
Stanley Byrd was laid off of work two weeks before learning of his cancer diagnosis, and now he had no insurance. Two surgeries and twelve rounds of chemotherapy later, Mr. Byrd was facing mounting medical bills exceeding $1 million, and he could not afford to pay these soaring costs. He was referred to the Western Tidewater Free Clinic for continued treatment.
The Free Clinic often refers patients that may be eligible for Social Security Disability and Medicaid to the Virginia Legal Aid Society for eligibility assistance. Mr. Byrd shared his plight with Randi Blumenson, a Virginia Legal Aid Society attorney.
Armed with medical records from the Free Clinic and two denials from the Social Security Administration, Ms. Blumenson’s plan was to take the case to a judge for a decision. The judge made an “on the record” decision to approve Mr. Byrd’s application.
Byrd admits he had reservations about utilizing a “free attorney” to apply for Social Security Disability benefits and Medicaid. “I was lost and had no faith. I never thought I would get help.” However, Ms. Blumenson explained she had been helping other people in this same predicament for more than 20 years. Her background and confidence compelled Mr. Byrd to “give her a shot.”
A grant from the Obici Healthcare Foundation to the Virginia Legal Aid Society allowed Ms. Blumenson to work with Mr. Byrd from the beginning and walk him through every step of the process. For Stanley Byrd, the Virginia Legal Aid Society was a lifesaver—literally. “If not for Legal Aid,” he said, “I know that I’d have been in a homeless shelter or worse.”
When the good news finally came, both Mr. Byrd and Ms. Blumenson were overjoyed. He was able to obtain retroactive Medicaid to pay off his medical bills and receive a monthly income. Mr. Byrd was relieved to know he was no longer a burden to his family.
Though the process took a year, and the case is officially closed, Ms. Blumenson remains in touch with Mr. Byrd. Although Mr. Byrd is in remission, he still faces a long road to recovery and has Ms. Blumenson to thank for getting him to the point. “I can’t thank her enough.”
Forever scarred physically and emotionally by horrific events that took place, Lindsey Arp, with the help of Legal Aid Society, took a stand against domestic violence.
Lindsey’s battle with domestic violence began early with verbal and physical abuse, threats, intimidation and control from her boyfriend.
Concerned for her own safety as well as her children’s, Lindsey endured the abuse for four-and-a-half years because she didn’t know how to safely escape the relationship.
After Lindsey finally gained the courage to end the relationship, she fell victim to one of the most heinous acts of domestic violence that the Legal Aid Society has ever encountered. In retaliation for ending the relationship, her abuser boiled a large stockpot of oil and doused Lindsey with it while she was asleep—instantly scalding and disfiguring most of her body. She spent the next four months fighting for her life in the intensive care and burn units.
Shortly after the attack, Lindsey’s sister contacted the Legal Aid Society for legal help and advice.
The Legal Aid Society provided holistic legal services to Lindsey, with five attorneys assisting her in nine different cases involving various services like filing for, obtaining, and extending an Order of Protection; executing a will; durable power of attorney for financial matters and durable power of attorney for healthcare decisions; filing a victim’s compensation claim and more.
On the outside, she is scarred and burned front to back from her head to her thigh, has lost the use of one ear and one eye, and has significantly limited use of one hand and one arm.
Due to the extensive third-degree burns, Lindsey had a heart attack and technically “died” three times in the hospital. She’s had 15 surgeries and five procedures so far, including many skin grafts, and more surgeries are in her future.
But on the inside, Lindsey is fighting an emotional battle every day to regain her strength and hope for a normal life. Through the legal confidence gained from Legal Aid Society and the emotional support of her community and local organizations, Lindsey is living proof of how Legal Aid Society helps domestic violence victims gain independence from their abusers and live a life free of abuse. The criminal case against Lindsey’s abuser concluded on July 20, 2012 in Marshall County Circuit Court. He was found guilty of attempted first-degree murder and other charges.
Twenty-one families became homeless when the Fire Marshall condemned the building where they lived after numerous notices to the landlord. The families were given fifteen minutes to pack what they could carry and leave. The landlord failed to secure the building and many of the tenants’ possessions were lost or stolen. NJP quickly sued for a temporary restraining order requiring the landlord to secure the tenants’ possessions and to pay for their cost of having to relocate. The landlord immediately secured the possessions and agreed to pay the tentants’ relocation expenses. As a result of NJP’s quick action, the tenants received funds to secure new homes and avoid continued homelessness.
Last year 3-year-old Mikey was living in foster care when his father John wanted custody of him. Mikey was ready to move in with his father when a staff attorney from NPLS spoke to John and learned that John works full time and Mikey would be cared for at home by his father’s girlfriend, Pamela. The staff attorney asked the court to have Children and Youth Services check out Pamela before Mikey moved in. The attorney learned of a number of open investigations on Pamela for abusing and neglecting her own biological children. Fortunately, this information came out because the NPLS staff attorney pressed for a background check. Mikey is now thriving with his foster family and will likely be adopted by them.
Maria is the mother of two daughters. She has muscular dystrophy and for several years the older daughter has lived with Maria’s father. This year Maria‘s MS advanced to the point where she was no longer able care for her younger daughter. Her father agreed to care for the 11-year-old as well as her older sister, but Maria needed a power of attorney so he could enroll her in school. Maria contacted Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma for help. Legal Aid quickly completed a power of attorney and now the sisters are back together, being well cared for by grandpa and attending the same school.
Ms. F is a disabled woman who lives in subsidized housing. In late November her car broke down in the parking lot of the local Wal-Mart. It needed a new starter, which she would be unable to purchase until she received her SSI check. She stayed in touch with Wal-Mart and explained to them that she had purchased the starter and would have it installed on 12/9. Nevertheless, Wal-Mart had her car towed on 12/8. Ms. F was then told by towing company that it would cost $260.00 to retrieve her car, plus $45.00 for each day that it was held by them in storage. Both Ms. F and her son had out of town doctor’s appointments every month, so she was very concerned as to how they would get to their medical appointments. She came to Blue Ridge Legal Services to see if they could help.
The BRLS attorney did some quick legal research and then sent a letter to the Wal-Mart store manager, explaining that Ms. F’s car had been towed in violation of Virginia Code § 46.2-1232, which requires the owner of a parking lot to post signs saying that vehicles would be towed if they were left. (The BRLS attorney knew there were no signs because she personally checked). After some “back and forth”, Wal-Mart agreed to pay all the towing charges, and also paid for the vehicle to be towed back to Ms. F’s home.
The client was born in Arkansas but had since moved to Arizona. All she needed was a name change. It seemed simple enough, but her issue was that she was misnamed at birth. Her birth certificate had her name wrong. This created problems, as she was not able to prove her identity, which resulted in her repeated denial of employment or request for public assistance. The case was referred to VOCALS attorney Anthony “Tony” Mansell. Mr. Mansell is a licensed Arkansas attorney but spent 10 years as an engineer and 17 years as a college math teacher. After retiring from teaching, Mr. Mansell sought out the VOCALS program to devote his time to and volunteers at least 15 hours a week at the Center for Arkansas Legal Services. Mr. Mansell petitioned the Court to change the client’s birth name, and once the judge signed the Order, the Department of Vital Statistics adhered to the Order and issued a new birth certificate to the client with her real name. This enabled the client to seek valid employment and all other benefits to which she was rightly entitled.
Two families were living in apartments located in a building that was previously a single family home. The building was included in a land contract being purchased by the landlord. When the landlord failed to make payments, the original owner started foreclosure proceedings. The owner did not provide the tenants any notice of the proceedings and locked both families out of their apartments.
AppalReD was successful in getting the families back into their homes. Both tenants wanted to move, but had difficulty finding other housing. AppalReD negotiated with the owner to allow them to stay in the apartments until they found alternate housing.
J.K. had a son who suffered from ADHD. Her son was having trouble at school. The local school was attempting to cut back on the assistance he was receiving in class. J.K. came to us seeking assistance in continuing the same level of benefits.
At a local meeting with the school board, an attorney from the Prestonsburg office was able to maintain and increase benefits for the child’s educational needs.
A decade ago, Sudanese refugee Nyadeng W. came to America with her husband. When Nyadeng discovered that he had a girlfriend on the side, she ended their relationship. Her husband did not abide well with this.
“I want to kill you. I want to shoot you,” he threatened Nyadeng. He also wanted custody of their one-year-old child.
Circumstances forced Nyadeng to live in Seattle, and her husband lived in Omaha with their son. Because Nyadeng was living out-of-state, the court granted custody to the father. Ten years later, with only occasional correspondence and no visits, Nyadeng returned to Nebraska and sought to end the separation from her child. At her cousin’s suggestion – a former client of Legal Aid – Nyadeng contacted Legal Aid of Nebraska for assistance.
Finding it difficult to adapt to life in the United States, Nyadeng’s husband moved back to his native country in Africa. He left the child in the care of the paternal grandparents but retained custody himself. With the father unavailable to care for the child and not expected to return from Africa, and the grandparents lacking the rights to guardianship and unwilling to return the boy to his mother, Nyadeng pursued a change of custody.
Attorney Elaine D’Amato assisted Nyadeng in retrieving her parental rights. Despite a slight difficulty in communication – Nyadeng’s native language is Nuer, but she also speaks English – Elaine was impressed with Nyadeng’s presence. “She was very nice, very cooperative, very grateful, appreciative, kind,” Elaine says of her experience working with Nyadeng. “We enjoy working with people from other cultures,” she adds. Legal Assistance of Nebraska offers its services at homeless shelters and ethnic centers for the legal needs of refugees. Over the past six years, it has represented many refugees through the International Center of the Heartland.
The day before the final hearing, the grandparents returned the boy to his mother. Sole physical and legal custody was granted to Nyadeng. Speaking of Legal Aid’s service, Nyadeng acclaims, “It saved my life. We had no money, but it took care of both my own and my son’s lives. It really saved my life.”
Tribal member client contacted the Bishop office in August 2011. The tribal member lived in her mobile home on the reservation. The client was being sued in the local Superior Court for approximately $30,000 by an attorney in Washington State. The attorney had assisted a family member in a Washington case in 2007. At that time the attorney had asked repeatedly if our client's family could help pay him for the family member's legal fees. Finally the attorney had convinced our client over the phone to purchase and execute a Deed of Trust form and promissory note. The attorney did not explain to our client in any way what these two forms meant, or that her home could be taken if she did not pay. This act by the attorney was in addition to other potential violations of the Rules of Professional Conduct. By the time the client contacted CILS, the Washington attorney had already sued our client in Washington over a period of almost four years trying to collect on the promissory note and Deed of Trust. The Washington case eventually made its way to the Washington Supreme Court which held the state did not have jurisdiction over our client, and the attorney was ordered to pay our client's Washington attorney's fees. Fortunately, another Washington attorney, referred to client by CILS, had assisted our client free of charge over the four year litigation period in Washington. The attorney then filed a writ of cert in the United States Supreme Court which was denied June 2011.After intense research, discovery, and after CILS served articulated Interrogatories and Requests for Production of Documents, and Requests for Admission on the Washington attorney in March of 2012, the attorney decided to drop his lawsuit against our client in the same month. Our client is now living contently, without the threat of her home being taken away.
Baby Jordyn Barker was born with a chromosome 17 deletion syndrome, a rare and dangerous condition that has caused several life threatening difficulties in her short life. Among other chronic problems, she has seizures and must be fed through a tube. She has had surgery on her kidneys and her bladder is now attached to the wall of her abdomen. Another surgery was planned not long before her second birthday to correct the curvature of her spine, after which she was to be put in a full body cast to heal. She could be at home, but would require skilled and nearly constant nursing care to keep her alive. Jordyn’s mom has to work full time to support Jordyn and her two sisters and was relying on nurses who came to her home to care for the baby 52 hours each week. Those hours were paid for through Medicaid by the Georgia Pediatric Program (GAPP). But even as doctors were recommending an increase in the nursing hours following Jordyn’s surgery, GAPP suddenly decided to reduce the nursing hours to 40 per week. Ms. Barker sought legal help from GLSP. Her GLSP lawyer ﬁled an appeal of the reduction in nursing hours and also sought an increase in the nursing hours, as Jordyn’s doctors wanted. Federal Medicaid policies provide for nursing hours for “medically fragile” children like Jordyn if they are deemed medically necessary. Having seen other cases where GAPP officials were reducing medical services to children with serious disabilities or illnesses, her GLSP lawyer contended that GAPP officials were routinely reducing medical services based on administrative concerns, rather than what the doctors said was necessary. In resolving Ms. Barker’s appeal, GAPP officials ultimately agreed to cover 84 weekly hours of nursing, as well as intensive nursing care immediately following Jordyn’s surgery.
Amy is a high school student who had been dating a fellow student, John, for a few months. John mistreated and harassed Amy, sometimes even in the school building, but she believed she was in love. One morning, John physically harassed Amy in the back of the gymnasium during a presentation by a GLSP lawyer on teen dating violence prevention to an assembly of 100 students and teachers. The GLSP lawyer immediately saw what was going on between Amy and John and was able to get the attention of the school’s security guard. John was hauled out of the gym and was not allowed to return to the assembly. After the assembly, the GLSP lawyer met with Amy and her mother in the principal’s office. Amy opened up about John’s abuse. She said that this was not the ﬁrst time John had harassed her, and that she was afraid of him. The GLSP lawyer addressed the dangers facing Amy and talked about the legal options available to her, including getting a protective order against John. She was grateful for the information. Since 2009, when GLSP started its Teen Dating Violence Prevention Program, a total of 10,000 public school students, teachers, parents, school administrators, and counselors have beneﬁtted. GLSP is raising awareness in rural communities and schools about the epidemic problem of teen dating violence and the urgent need for more effective prevention and deterrence and offers information to students and parents needing GLSP’s legal assistance, advocacy, and support. Communities are learning about safety and protection for teens, and the legal protections available through the courts. At least one in four students who have participated in GLSP’s Teen Dating Violence Prevention Program have shared that they have been in abusive dating relationships.
Joe, a high school teenager with a documented disability, was repeating the 10th grade for the third time. He experienced frequent panic attacks while in school and even had difficulty leaving is home. The school district had failed to provide legally mandated supports despite their knowledge of his disability and special needs.
Once RILS intervened and advocated for Joe, he was provided home instruction and tutoring to make up for lost time. Unfortunately, the school again interrupted home instruction, in violation of Joe’s Individualized Education Program (IEP).Veronika Kot, RILS’ education attorney, filed a complaint with the RI Department of Education – and prevailed. Home instruction was reinstated.
After three years of ongoing legal support and case monitoring, Joe was finally able to graduate from high school and is now in the process of applying to college.
Joe’s dream is to complete his college degree and to eventually work in the music industry.
Sandy, a 65 year old woman, had been living in and paying rent on time in the same apartment for the past thirty years. Her building, a four family house, had two other units also occupied by seniors.
Sandy and the other tenants had been paying rent to the landlord through September when they read a newspaper notice advertising that the property was in foreclosure. In October, they learned that the building was sold but were not advices the name of the new owner.
Shortly thereafter, an agent of this new owner knocked and demanded rent, requesting that all tenants sign “month-to-month leases.” That is when Sandy contacted RILS.
RILS’ Elder Law attorney advised Sandy neither to sign not to pay any money until he found out the identity of the new owner. He contacted the law firm that handled the foreclosure and learned that the winning bidder had assigned her purchase to a third party investor, ABC Inc., but that the sale was not yet final.
Meanwhile, Sandy found a notice tacked to her door saying that the water would be shut off within the week. RILS’ Elder law attorney contacted ABC Inc. who agreed to pay the water arrearage to avoid shut-off even though they were not yet officially the owner.
In December, ABC Inc. became the official building owner.
But who was the original person who had demanded rent and signed contracts back in October? They were never seen again.
John and Daniel Sullivan took advantage of people for years. When identifying targets for their schemes, the brothers pursued elderly, disabled, uneducated, and other vulnerable people. Their pattern involved pledging to perform home improvements, taking inordinately large payments from their victims, and then never following through on their promises. They would wait to see how much equity they could extract from a property or how much money the homeowner could be approved to borrow, and then would draft home improvement contracts in that amount, regardless of the actual value of the expected improvements. And when that failed, they would just forge signatures on contracts and fictitious leases and leave the homeowners high and dry, their homes’ equity and hard-earned assets in shambles.
Their pattern was so clear that when Peter and Elaine called LAF for help, Supervisory Attorney michelle Weinberg was able to correctly guess who was behind the trouble before they even told her the scammers’ names. Michelle pursued the Sullivan brothers for ten years, through various enforcement efforts by the City of Chicago, and the Illinois Attorney General, but nothing seemed to stop these men.
But Michelle would not give up, and this year, a federal judge sentenced them to fourteen years apiece in prison. He also called them “financial vampires” and ordered them to pay back almost $150,000 in ill-gotten gains and restitution, money they stole that is now being returned to Peter and Elaine and all their victims who “were counting on that to live out the rest of their lives.”
Yvonne’s story is a heart-wrenching one. When she came to us, she had recently learned that she was fighting stage-4 metastic colon cancer. To make things worse, when she found out her diagnosis, her husband left her; and although the court ordered her husband to pay support, he quickly stopped doing so. She had a small business but the combination of her illness and the bad economy meant it failed. This left her with virtually no income so the bank began foreclosure proceedings on her home, all while she was fighting for her life.
Kate Shank, a Supervisory Attorney at LAF, immediately took her case. Kate took Yvonne’s ex-husband to court and got him to pay the maintenance he owed, so that Yvonne wouldn’t have to worry about how to pay for her life while she was trying so desperately to save it. With that money, Yvonne was able to pay her mortgage and her utility bills, which allowed her to stay in her home. She also was ale to purchase a La-Z-Boy chair, which she spent many hours in during chemotherapy treatments.
“Before all this, I was really happy with the direction my life was going,” Yvonne said. “Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined that my journey would take such a drastic turn. But it happened! You never think it can happen to you, but believe me, it can. And if not you, then someone you know and love.” Though she is still fighting cancer, thanks to Kate and LAF, Yvonne is in a much better place.
"I'm Lexie. I had to put my husband of 40 years, Clyde, in a nursing home a few years ago. I had a bill from the nursing home for $24,000. I nearly died. I couldn’t take care of Clyde by myself and I didn’t have that kind of money to pay. A Legal Aid attorney figured out the nursing home had been double billing me. My attorney got the Nursing Home Ombudsman to help, too. My attorney helped me with an appeal. The nursing home had to refund $47,872 to Clyde and me and Clyde gets to stay where he will get good care."
Anna Marshall, a 53 year old woman without health insurance, works as a home health aide. She came to the SEOLS office in Steubenville because her wages were being garnished by a local hospital. She had unpaid bills from the hospital due to her lack of insurance but said she had never received any notice of the garnishment and only found out about it when the money started being taken out of her paycheck.
She did not even know there was a judgment against her. This unexpected garnishment, plus the breakdown of her car which she needs to keep her job, put her housing at risk as she could not afford rent and the garnishment.
A SEOLS attorney reviewed the court file and found that service of process had never been made on Ms. Marshall. Another woman with the same first name but different last name had been served in another city where Ms. Marshall had never even lived. A SEOLS attorney filed to vacate the void judgment based on lack of personal jurisdiction and a motion to terminate the garnishment. Both were granted by the court.
A SEOLS attorney then working with the hospital determined that some of Ms. Marshall’s bills should have been covered by the federal Hospital Care Assurance Program and she could be helped with some through one of its charity programs. As a result, Ms. Marshall will get back $1,431.00 in garnished funds which will allow her to keep her housing and avoid the downward spiral that would have happened to her if she had lost her housing.
A woman called our Binghamton office, distraught and sobbing, stating that her husband of nearly 40 years was planning to divorce her in order to “save her life.” Upon speaking with the woman further, a Binghamton office paralegal learned that she depended on $700 worth of medications per month due to serious medical conditions. When her husband became ill as well and retired, they were told that his pension made her ineligible for prescription drug coverage. The husband saw no other choice but to get a divorce and move out of the family home. Our paralegal checked the couple’s income against a variety of programs in New York State, and helped them fill out applications. Both husband and wife now have full coverage, and continue to be happily married.
Our Utica office assisted a young woman who had attempted to earn a degree in nursing, but was forced to drop out of school due to health problems. She eventually recovered, but was unable to re-enroll because her student loan was in default. We negotiated a low pay-off amount with the lender and obtained a small grant from a community agency, enabling the client to pay off the loan in full with her savings. The client is now working in the healthcare field and attending nursing school.
“Misconduct” can be a cause for loss of employment, but what if the employer is applying its ruling of misconduct inconsistently among two employees?
That’s the question Legal Aid Attorney Amanda McMahon faced in the case of “Bethany,” who worked seven years as a special edu-cation para-educator for an area school district. In December, 2011, Bethany was accused by school officials of misconduct. Her request for a second chance was denied, so Bethany lost her job but also became ineligible for 14 weeks of unemployment benefits. Legal Aid Attorney McMahon discovered the school based its firing decision on a video of Bethany’s interaction with a behaviorally-challenged student. During the intense interaction, Bethany made comments to the student who had lashed out at her. It also showed that Bethany’s supervising teacher acted in an identical manner towards the student.
Bethany had been immediately dismissed for the incident while the supervising teacher received no discipline.
McMahon showed at a hearing that the video had been edited to emphasize Bethany’s behavior while the actions of the supervising teacher were downplayed. On cross-examination, the school’s witnesses could not clearly articulate how Bethany had violated any school policies.
The judge found fault with the school’s actions because of Bethany’s long service, the school’s inability to articulate a clear misconduct policy and the arbitrary decision to dismiss her without disciplining the supervising teacher. Bethany is again eligible to receive unemployment benefits, and McMahon and Legal Aid are pleased with the outcome of this rewarding case.
Paralyzed and isolated by language and culture, Kyi and her family were struggling to get through each day. Today, because of Kyi’s determination to build a better life for her children she is getting the support services she so desperately needed to care for her 2 and 4 year old daughters. Kyi and her husband, Than, immigrated to the United States from a Thai refugee camp to escape the political turmoil in their home country of Myanmar. Just seven months after the family arrived in the Bay Area they faced an enormous setback; Kyi was rushed to the hospital, unable to walk. Kyi was diagnosed with a rare muscular and neurological disorder that would only worsen without rigorous, ongoing intervention. The only thing on Kyi’s mind was how would she be able to care for her daughters. During her stay at the hospital, a caseworker and interpreter helped Kyi apply for In-Home Support Services: IHSS would give Kyi access to a qualified professional who would help her get the medical intervention she needed to combat her condition. IHSS tentatively approved Kyi for benefits pending an in-person interview with a case worker. Without the help of a Burmese translator, and with the letter from IHSS written in English, the couple did their best to find the location of the appointment, but were unsuccessful. IHSS’s response to the missed appointment was to terminate Kyi’s benefits and refuse to provide future assistance. Kyi contacted Bay Area Legal Aid: BayLegal appealed the denial and prevailed. In addition to getting her IHSS benefits reinstated, BayLegal worked with IHSS to ensure that all future communications to Kyi would be translated into Burmese. Today Kyi is getting help at home to take care of herself; as a result she is feeling more confident about her ability to care for her daughters. Kyi said that ever since connecting with Bay Area Legal Aid “life is just getting better and better”.