Helping low-income Nebraskans to solve problems:
Here are a few of the many representative stories of how Legal Aid makes a difference for low-Income Nebraskans… every day… for so many… in a remarkable number of ways.
Disabled woman able to improve her quality of life. Client was battling stage 4 breast cancer when she came to Legal Aid after receiving expensive and inaccurate private legal advice. Already disabled, relying on Social Security Disability income, she was set to receive a small inheritance of $5,400. She planned to use these funds to fix her car so she could get to medical appointments, and replace her broken washer and dryer. But the bad legal advice had led to the end of her Social Security benefits, and a demand for more than $2,000 in “overpayments.” Legal Aid’s expert in public benefits filed an administrative appeal, proved this inheritance was exempt, and saved her invaluable Social Security.
Exploited elder able to get home back. Client owns a house, but is elderly and low income. Trying to get at the equity from the home to meet her needs, she listed it for sale with a “realtor,” who thereupon moved into the home and sent her a “lease.” Client was confused and was losing what little she had in the world. Legal Aid lawyers were able to file a legal action to evict the “realtor,” pursue sanctions against the “realtor,” and help her obtain custody and ownership of the home again.
Survivor of domestic violence gains safety. Client came to Legal Aid’s self-help Access to Justice Center, informing staff of violence in her home, including physical abuse to her and her three children leading to hospitalization. She had filed on her own for a Protection Order, but now she was unwilling to go to a hearing to continue this order because she would have to confront the abuser. Legal Aid’s domestic relations legal staff represented her at the hearing, obtained a continuing order from the court, got her legal and physical custody of her children, and helped her dissolve the marriage.
Child cancer victim gains better conditions and health. Client was only five but had already experienced leukemia and two transplant surgeries. Yet, despite the surgical success, he could not go home because, like many other hardworking but low-income families, his family was forced to deal with substandard, unsafe housing, making a healthy recovery near impossible due to his compromised immune system. Legal Aid’s medical-legal partnership staff went to work, helping the family to get out of a lease, receive back the deposit, find better housing, and gain better conditions. He is happy and healthy today due in large part to Legal Aid.
Veteran obtains medical access and care for disabled daughter. Client, living in rural Nebraska, was Vietnam Veteran who saw combat and was exposed to Agent Orange. His high school aged daughter was a special needs child, attending school but often with seizures, physical disabilities, and limited vocabulary. His family’s income became limited to VA benefits and the daughter’s monthly SSI benefit. As she neared age of majority, her access to VA medical care and benefits would end. Legal Aid, though, helped him gain a guardianship over his daughter, ensuring that necessary medical care and services were continued.
Farmer able to renegotiate loans and avoid bankruptcy. Client was struggling with low prices and large operating loans on his rented farm. He had strong connections with his community and local bank, but was low income and low asset and was risking replevin and foreclosure, compounding his financial distress. He felt his only way out was to liquidate and go bankrupt, ending his family’s long connection to farming. Legal Aid’s farm and ranch project provided him both financial and legal counseling, helped him identify new options, and negotiated with his bank, keeping his family above water.
Low-income taxpayer gets reduction in taxes, gains refund. Client was the sole working financial provider for his family, including several children. The IRS disallowed tax benefits on his return, resulting in a tax bill of over $4,100. Legal Aid’s tax attorney filed a petition in U.S. Tax Court, had decision reversed, and stopped tax lien enforcement on his limited income. Plus, Legal Aid proved his family was owed a $1,000 refund.
Refugee gains parental rights and protects family. Client had fled war in Africa over decade before with her husband. When she wanted to end their marriage, he threatened to kill her, took custody of their one-year old child, and fled the country, leaving the child with his parents, who refused to give the child to his mother. Legal Aid filed actions in court to clarify and change orders of custody, resulting in both the return of the child and continuing protection orders, keeping them safe.
A transplant surgery is only as successful as the recovery that follows. In his five short years of life, Diego Salcido had faced the enormous hardship of childhood cancer. After being diagnosed with leukemia in January, 2015 he received a bone marrow transplant, which failed. By August, he had received and was responding positively to a second transplant.
Yet, despite the surgical success, Diego could not return home. Like many other hardworking, yet low-income families, Diego’s family was forced to deal with substandard housing. Although the Salcido’s home was neat and tidy, it was infested with cockroaches and bedbugs, making a healthy recovery impossible for Diego’s compromised immune system.
Legal Aid of Nebraska through their Medical-Legal Partnership Project (MLPP) went to bat for Diego’s family, helping them work to get out of their lease, get back their deposit, find better housing and obtain furniture necessary for Diego’s health and recovery.
A left ventricular assist device (LVAD) can mean the difference between life and death for a patient on an organ transplant list. It’s a temporary device that helps a patient’s weakened heart pump blood while he or she waits for a new heart.
“Tom” was on the waitlist for a heart transplant, and his LVAD was keeping him alive. Both Tom’s father and brother had died young because of a genetic heart disorder, and Tom, only in his forties, was facing a similar end. Unable to work on account of his condition, Tom applied for Social Security Disability Income (SSDI). He had worked his whole life and counted on this money to help him get through this difficult period. So, Tom was surprised when he was turned down.
Legal Aid heard from Tom after he had been denied disability benefits. He found out that he’d have to wait two to three years for a hearing about the decision. But Tom didn’t have two to three years to wait. The Social Security Administration (SSA) determined that, despite the LVAD, Tom could work because he could walk. Legal Aid attorney Ann Mangiameli reached out to those who had made the determination to deny Tom’s benefits, to explain his situation and what an LVAD is.
Legal Aid’s advocacy resulted in the SSA reconsidering their decision to deny Tom benefits. After reviewing the case, the SSA granted Tom disability benefits. Tom’s case prompted a review of national LVAD policy in the SSA’s Program Operations Manual System (POMS), which is used in the evaluation of disability cases.
The LVAD policy was revised.
The outcome of this case resulted in a national policy change, effectively making it easier for patients with this device to get their benefits quickly. The sooner someone is qualified for these benefits, the sooner they can receive income security and better access to healthcare. At over six feet tall, Tom had needed a very large heart. Though the chances of finding a heart that size were small, we are happy to share that Tom underwent his transplant in early 2015 and is doing great.
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 Aid 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.”