Nebraska’s struggling veterans receive hope from HELP, a medical-legal partnership

“Jackie,” a U.S. veteran, visited a new friend’s apartment thinking his roommate would also be there. But, when she entered the apartment, no roommate was to be found.

It happened in a matter of minutes. She was locked inside his bedroom and threatened with a gun. Then, she was assaulted.

When she had nowhere else to turn, Legal Aid provided dignity and hope during her darkest moments.

Jayne Wagner, an attorney with Legal Aid’s Health, Education & Law Project (HELP), assisted the veteran with filing a protection order against her attacker to protect her from future harm. HELP is a medical-legal partnership that integrates the unique expertise of lawyers into health care settings to help clinicians, case managers and social workers address problems.

Thanks to a generous grant from Women Investing in Nebraska, HELP attorneys have the opportunity to serve those who have served our country.

“We provide the resources and support to be able to help someone out of a bad situation,” Wagner said. “I choose to work at Legal Aid because this is where I am able to help individuals who are in the most need.”

HELP seeks to address legal problems that have an overall impact on health and provides legal education and services in partnership with hospitals, health centers and medical providers.

Helping Nebraska’s veterans receive vital legal services when they need it most

“We are able to provide not only needed legal services, but also social services with our relationships with the hospitals and having social worker students in our office,” Wagner said.

Helping the veteran community is a mission that is close to Wagner’s heart. “My husband served eight years in the Air Force. When he came home, he struggled with the transition to civilian life, as many others have experienced.”

 

“HELP is a medical-legal partnership that integrates the unique expertise of lawyers into health care settings.”

 

 

HELP is a collaborative medical-legal project addressing pressing legal needs that impact veterans’ health. HELP is the first of its kind in the state, serving veterans being treated at the Department of Veterans Affairs Nebraska-Western Iowa Health Care system in Omaha (VA). The VA partnership is one aspect of HELP, which also provides services to non-veterans at other hospitals and medical centers throughout Nebraska.

There is a critical need among Nebraska’s veterans to resolve their underlying legal-medical issues. Veterans may need a legal guardian, legal action to avoid eviction while hospitalized or access to benefits they have earned.

According to a 2020 CHALENG survey, nine of the top ten unmet needs were the same for male and female Veterans, including child care, family reconciliation assistance, housing for registered sex offenders and legal assistance. These unresolved legal issues include guardianships to make life-or-death decisions, power of attorney, eviction protections, restoring official documents, accessing benefits, upgrading discharge status and more.

“Nine out of the top 10 unmet needs were the same for … Veterans, including childcare, family reconciliation assistance, housing for registered sex offenders and legal assistance.”

When unexpected hardships happen, Legal Aid helps Nebraska’s veterans on their worst day

A military veteran mother was married to another service member. They divorced and tragically, the father passed away.

Their three-year-old son was due military payments, but was not able to receive them without necessary paperwork. The mother received a slip of paper from the military and was told ‘you need a conservatorship.’

Legal Aid HELP attorney Andrew Schill helped her through the process by assisting her with filing the paperwork and the child received vital financial support.

“Most of our clients have just received very bad news and now they have to sort out the legal complications of this new problem they just lost a loved one, or were recently diagnosed with a terminal illness,  and now they are facing medical bills or have to care for an adult family member. A HELP attorney is truly meeting many of our clients on their worst day,” Schill said.

Mitigating the potential for disastrous socio-economic and health issues

Managing Attorney of HELP Ann Mangiameli said that the fallout from the pandemic will likely worsen an already challenging situation for veterans, who face increased evictions, unemployment and wage loss.

 

“Most of our clients have just received very bad news … a HELP attorney is truly meeting many of our clients on their worst day.”

 

“We represent individuals threatened with eviction. The hospital can meet their medical needs, but often no one is paying their rent or taking care of their other obligations while they are hospitalized. We can help them appoint an agent through a power of attorney to take care of those things. Additionally, if they do face an eviction, we can negotiate with the landlord to keep them in the home longer or get the eviction proceeding dismissed entirely.” she said.

Unfortunately, the VA, as a government agency, does not have the authority to fund civil legal services for veterans. This makes the need for future funding to continue to provide HELP services to veterans essential. Legal Aid continues to seek out continued funding sources to assist veterans.

And unless HELP’s work at the VA receives further financial support through grants and donations, future work with the VA is in jeopardy.

“Today, medical professionals have to act like lawyers, attempting to help veterans resolve legal issues that they do not have the expertise to undertake. Attorneys often serve like ER physicians who focus on emergencies and not prevention, representing individuals when they are in a legal crisis, such as facing eviction,” Mangiameli said.

The healthcare team refers veterans to the legal team, who provide advice, intervention and representation. Because of this, veterans receive improved medical and legal outcomes.

Legal Aid manages the complexities of the law for clients who can’t

HELP attorney Zachary Anderson finds enrichment in being able to guide and help clients during their most challenging times.

“It seems that most of all when clients come to us, they’ve lost all sense of hope. But the services HELP provides gives them perhaps the first glimpse of hope that they’ve had in a long time,” Anderson said.

He joined HELP at Legal Aid of Nebraska out of a desire to help others. His previous job defending against workers’ compensation claims was not the right fit for him. He realized he would rather help people access benefits, health care, income and security.

Need additional help?

Legal Aid recognizes that veterans make sacrifices when serving our country and sometimes adjusting from service life to civilian life is not easy. Legal Aid is here to help resolve legal issues that may be associated with veterans’ issues including mental health, benefits and family. Below are more resources:

  • Discover more about the common legal issues Legal Aid helps with.

Jen Litton, Development Coordinator, is the author of this article.

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