The Veteran Advocacy Project provides free legal services to low-income veterans and their families, with a focus on those living with Post Traumatic Stress, Traumatic Brain Injury, and substance use issues.
Most of our nation’s servicemembers make a successful transition back to civilian life, but it is not always easy. The VA’s records indicate that 20 veterans die by suicide each day. An estimated 20% of our troops come home with Post Traumatic Stress and countless veterans struggle with Traumatic Brain Injuries, depression, and substance dependency. When these individuals face legal challenges, such as eviction or an improper termination of benefits, it increases the risk that they will fall further into illness, become homeless, or die by suicide. The Veteran Advocacy Project intervenes before veterans reach the breaking point by ensuring their access to housing, health care, and income.
We are partnered with VA hospitals, mental health clinics, and community groups to reach veterans where they are. While our attorneys tackle the legal challenges, our advocates ensure that our clients are connected to appropriate social services. With a dedicated team, the project allows veterans and their families to achieve the stability needed to regain their health and rebuild their lives.
Along with our regular services working on eviction prevention, benefits hearings, VA claims, and access to health care, VAP has launched a few special initiatives to meet the needs we see from our clients.
- Discharge Upgrade Clinic (“DUC”)
- Justice-Involved Veterans Services
- Medical Legal Partnerships: Vet Centers and Community Healthcare Network
- Supportive Services for Veterans Families (SSVF)
We run one of the few legal services organizations that has a dedicated military discharge upgrade practice. Members of the military leave service with one of six discharge statuses that will determine their access to VA health care and disability benefits. Post Traumatic Stress and Traumatic Brain Injury wreak havoc on our servicemembers and the resulting behavioral health problems can easily lead to bad discharge papers that deny access to the VA. In other words, veterans need treatment for the condition that got them cut off from treatment.
There are hundreds of thousands of veterans with less than honorable discharges and, for many of them, even discretionary granting of benefits and health care by the VA is a long-shot. The suicide rate for a veteran with an misconduct discharge is nearly three times that of their fellow veterans. A bad discharge is also a serious barrier to employment, because few veterans will get a chance to explain their status–to explain that being late to formation a few times, or going AWOL to get away from an attacker, or smoking marijuana to self-medicate their overwhelming anxiety was the reason for their “Other Than Honorable” status. Cut off from the benefits they earned, and often alienated from their communities, men and women with “bad paper” are appearing in emergency rooms and criminal courts at higher rates than other vets around the country.
Of the veterans who were diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or traumatic brain injury (TBI) during service and were discharged for misconduct between 2011-2015, only 4 percent received an Honorable. Over 30,000 veterans with Post Traumatic Stress were given improper and stigmatizing Personality Disorder diagnoses and discharged with that stigmatizing label during the first decade of the Global War on Terror. Over 100,000 LGBTQ servicemembers were discharged for their sexual orientation. Before “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) even existed, and then also under that policy through the 2000s, servicemembers were discharged with no protection. In 2011, the section of the Uniform Code of Military Justice that made serving openly illegal and the DADT policy were finally repealed. Those veterans can correct the record with an application to a DOD Review Board. Yet, there are servicemembers who were discharged under a pretext of misconduct, when discrimination was the real reason, and they need expert advocacy to uncover the the truth and restore their honor to their discharges.
The Veteran Advocacy Project believes we owe it to all of these servicemembers to fight for their access to care. We are training pro bono attorneys around the country to represent veterans before the Department of Defense Review Boards.
Our partners include: New York County Lawyers’ Association, Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe LLC, Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler LLP, Duane Morris LLP, Deutsche Bank, and others.
For more information about our Discharge Upgrade Clinic, please email email@example.com.
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Justice-Involved Veterans Services
By bridging the divide between criminal and civil legal services, and adding veterans law, the Veteran Advocacy Project reduces justice-involved veterans’ collateral consequences; assist the families that are affected by incarceration of a loved one; remove barriers to veterans benefits and programs; and educate stakeholders in the criminal justice system on veteran-specific resources that offer culturally competent trauma care, housing assistance, and primary and behavioral health care. Through education, outreach, and advocacy, VAP improves outcomes for veterans and their families dealing with the criminal justice system in any capacity.
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Medical Legal Partnerships
VAP is partnered with the VA, providing legal assistance onsite at three Vet Centers in New York. These centers serve combat veterans and their families, providing counseling and transitional assistance.
For those veterans who cannot access the VA, we launched a partnership with Community Healthcare Network, a system of federally qualified health centers across New York City. Too many veterans forgo physical and mental care because they are struggling against complex benefits systems or fighting to maintain income and housing. Our attorneys work on those issues and on VA Character of Discharge (COD) and DoD discharge upgrade applications so that these veterans can access the vast federal benefits they earned through service. We also assist veterans and their families with eviction prevention and access to income while they await federal adjudication of their cases.
When doctors, nurses, social workers, and lawyers team up to address social determinants of health, we improve health outcomes and ensure that clients achieve the long-term stability needed to thrive.
VAP provides legal services to the veterans of two SSVF grantees in New York: Jericho Project and Services for the UnderServed (SUS). We are onsite once a week meeting with veterans and caseworkers, removing barriers to income and ensuring housing stability.