HAP volunteers are making important positive impacts in the lives of homeless individuals, as illustrated by the following cases. Tap on each story to read more.

“We face a lot of challenges in our country and our world, which can seem overwhelming. But there are individuals in our community, here in Philadelphia, that are struggling and can really use a helping hand navigating the legal system. As lawyers, we have the privilege of being able to help.”– HAP volunteer Luke Repici, a partner at White and Williams.

HAP Volunteers and White and Williams Partner Luke Repici, Associate Javier Puga, and Assistant Trish Meissner recently helped a homeless client take the necessary legal steps to obtain his benefits and find a stable living situation. Here’s their success story.

Thank you, Luke, Javier and Trish, for your dedication to pro bono work on behalf of HAP clients!

Lori Lasher, a partner at Reed Smith, is a long-term HAP Board Member and volunteer at HAP’s legal clinic at Project HOME. Here is Lori’s story.

Philly is at its best when our legal and social services agencies and their support teams come together to help someone in crisis.

When Mrs. A (an elderly widow who was being badly abused physically and verbally by her daughter) came to the Homeless Advocacy Project (HAP) legal clinic at Project HOME in February 2016, she was just looking for help with replacing her citizenship documentation and Social Security card.  These critical documents were destroyed when the place where she previously lived was condemned.  When I met Mrs. A, she was sleeping on a couch in the hallway of her daughter’s home.  Mrs. A was trying to secure housing at Project HOME’s new subsidized housing program called “Francis House of Peace.”

Since Mrs. A’s lost identification documents were needed to complete her housing application, Project HOME staff referred her to the HAP clinic for help. Mrs. A speaks minimal English as Cantonese is her primary language, so the intake started off a little rocky. Fortunately, Mrs. A showed me paperwork identifying Eddie Wong, a Francis House of Peace employee.  I called Eddie and he not only helped to explain why Ms. A was at the legal clinic, but he then served as interpreter during the remainder of our intake.  After talking with Mrs. A for a while through Eddie, I was astonished to learn that Mrs. A was being abused by her daughter.

Mrs. A clearly needed much more than just paperwork assistance. She needed a Protection from Abuse (PFA) Order.  One of my first acts was to recruit help from Jon Chan, one of my firm’s IT experts who is fluent in Cantonese.  Jon acted as our interpreter when my non-existent Cantonese and Mrs. A’s limited English failed us.  Since HAP does not handle protection from abuse cases, and since I was determined that Mrs. A would not go to the hearing without representation, HAP’s Executive Director, Marsha Cohen, connected me with SeniorLAW Centers’s (SLC) Dana Goldberg, one of the SLC’s most experienced lawyers in these matters.  Dana was willing to assist me as co-counsel in the PFA matter, gathering the evidence that was needed to be presented at the hearing and showing great compassion toward Mrs. A who was very afraid of her daughter.

While the PFA proceedings were pending, on the night of February 23, Mrs. A was locked out in the rain by her granddaughter who sat in the house, ignoring Mrs. A’s knocking and cries to be let in from the rain.  Mrs. A called me and I patched in Jon.  Realizing the seriousness of the situation and that I was almost an hour away, I immediately called Project HOME’s Outreach Coordination Center (OCC).  Outreach workers immediately picked up Mrs. A in their van, and kept her dry and safe until I could arrive.  That night, I convinced the police to force Mrs. A’s  granddaughter to let her back into the house.

On May 13, Dana successfully negotiated the maximum 3-year PFA order enforceable against Mrs. A’s daughter, sparing Mrs. A the ordeal of going through a fact-finding hearing.

With the help of Sister Mary Scullion, Executive Director of Project HOME, and Rachel Mak, Deputy Director of the Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation, Mrs. A has been approved for housing and expects to move into a safe home with a real bed very soon.

I am honored to work in a wonderful city that has such a great network of legal and support organizations and truly caring people who made it possible for us to help Mrs. A and really make a difference in her life.  Without the help of the organizations mentioned above, we could not have achieved these wonderful results for Mrs. A.  I hope that all who read this will be just a little more proud of your city and those who work tirelessly on behalf of the homeless, the abused and the elderly.  Please say thank you to each of them for Mrs. A and me.

Lori is a partner in the global law firm of Reed Smith and Director of the firm’s Pro Bono and Community Services.  Lori joined the HAP Board of Directors in 1996, served as Board President in 2004 and currently co-chairs HAP’s Standards & Monitoring Committee.  She is also the Adopt Coordinator for HAP’s legal clinic at Project HOME where she has served as a legal volunteer for over a decade.  Lori also serves on Project HOME’s Board of Trustees.

January 2016: HAP volunteer Jack Regenbogen met veteran DB at the Perimeter, a drop-in center for homeless veterans in Philadelphia. DB came to the Perimeter to meet with HAP attorney Michael Taub because he had recently been denied housing after the landlord ran a background report as part of the application process.   When he sat down to begin the interview, DB held in his hand a copy of the report, which seemed to go on and on.

During the interview, DB pointed out several serious criminal convictions that he denied. Two of the alleged convictions were for Megan’s Law offenses in states that DB insisted he never visited.  The background report also indicated that DB had been repeatedly evicted from public housing in the Pittsburgh area.

DB was adamant that he hadn’t committed these crimes and had never been evicted from public housing. DB needed help clearing the background report so that future landlords would give him a chance.

To begin the process, a HAP intern called the jurisdictions listed on the credit report and asked what types of evidence were needed to establish that our client had not committed the crimes or been evicted from public housing. For the Megan’s Law offenses, HAP’s intern was told that DB needed a current picture and to be fingerprinted. A HAP attorney took a close up picture of DB at HAP’s office, and DB paid to have himself fingerprinted and brought his fingerprint card to HAP.

Shortly thereafter, HAP’s intern sent the documents to the listed jurisdictions with a letter explaining their significance. He also included some of DB’s old military records, which HAP obtained, to help corroborate DB’s position. In the meantime, DB was still fighting for housing, so a HAP attorney called one of DB’s prospective landlords to explain that the background report was inaccurate and that it was being corrected.

Due to the evidence HAP provided, both jurisdictions quickly sent notarized letters confirming that the Megan’s Law offenses were not committed by DB. HAP’s intern forwarded this information to the credit company responsible for the background report and the convictions were immediately removed. The credit company also apologized to a HAP attorney for the errors, and indicated that the Pittsburgh evictions were being removed as well. The credit company also agreed to eliminate an entry for a crime in Philadelphia from the report.

Several months after DB’s background report was corrected, HAP happily presented DB with a report that was clear of any Megan’s Law convictions and prior evictions. This report was significantly shorter and DB now had a realistic chance of being accepted for new housing. He hugged HAP’s intern and attorney, saying that he never believed his name would be cleared. The background report was his ticket to housing, but restoring his name was what ultimately mattered most.

July 2015, volunteer attorney Paul Nofer, a partner at Klehr Harrison and new HAP volunteer began representing HAP client Mr. T., a 62-year-old St. John’s Hospice resident. Mr. T.’s application for SSI benefits had been dismissed after he missed a hearing before an administrative law judge. Paul appealed the dismissal to the Appeals Council and the case was remanded for a hearing. At a hearing in January 2015, Paul represented Mr. T, who, although very impaired had a very limited medical and mental health treatment history. At the hearing, the administrative law judge ordered the client to attend a consultative exam to determine the severity of his disabling conditions. Unfortunately, the report from the consultative exam failed to fully capture Mr. T’s level of disability and was internally inconsistent. Paul objected to the report, scheduled a second consultative exam for the client, and requested a supplemental hearing to provide testimony from the client’s case manager regarding the client’s functional limitations.

Following the supplemental hearing, the administrative law judge issued a fully favorable decision, finding the client disabled as of his application date in November 2012. The client is now entitled to approximately $23,000 in back benefits, in addition to his monthly SSI payment.

March 2015: Jared Leon, a new Dilworth Paxson associate, successfully managed a complicated SSI matter for a mother whose two sons were diagnosed with a variety of disabilities that could qualify them for SSI benefits – autism, PTSD, and other mental health issues. The SSI claims were on the verge of being denied. The children had been flagged by The Philadelphia Department of Human Services (DHS) as being in a potentially abusive situation, which further complicated the family’ s case. Jared learned that the DHS flagging resulted from one of the children being burned by an unsafe radiator, which the family’s landlord failed to properly maintain in their apartment, thus clearing up any implication of abuse. Jared acted quickly to stay the denial of the benefits and to get the children examined by experts to support the claims of disability. He worked with doctors, the children’s school, and the specialists to fill out the necessary forms, paperwork, and certifications which were used to support his submission to SSI ALJ. In March 2015, the children’s benefits were approved and the family’s income nearly tripled. The mother made a special effort to thank Jared, Dilworth Paxson, and HAP for “profoundly” changing their lives.

June 2014: Volunteer Angela Guarino from Blank Rome went the extra mile and had a successful outcome with her very first HAP case! RG, a 52-year-old woman suffering from serious mental illness was fleeing extreme domestic abuse. She first appeared at the Eliza Shirley Clinic in February, 2014. She presented paperwork indicating that she had an SSI disability hearing pending before an administrative law judge which was scheduled for the following month. After being briefed on RG’s situation by fellow Blank Rome volunteer Bridget Mayer, Angela requested and obtained a continuance of the hearing so that she would have time to accumulate medical and other evidence and prepare the case. Angela worked diligently with RG who was very distraught throughout the process, due to being a victim of domestic abuse and to having had a very chaotic and transient living history which included multiple homeless shelters and abuse facilities. While displaced, RG was also receiving intensive treatment as an outpatient at a mental health treatment facility. Angela collected all relevant medical records, worked with RG’s therapist and doctor to complete a Social Security form in support of her disability argument and assisted RG’s sister with the preparation of an exhaustive support letter.

On the day before the hearing, RG informed Angela that she was feeling very anxious and didn’t want to attend the hearing. Angela arranged to pick up RG the next day by taxi and accompanied her to the hearing where Angela presented the client’s testimony, in addition to an oral argument. In June 2014, Angela received a Fully Favorable decision awarding RG ongoing SSI benefits as well as two years of back benefits. Angela, her team at the Blank Rome law office, and client RG were thrilled by the outcome.

May 2014: The young man, Sam, was staying in Impact Services transitional housing, which assists adult men and women who are struggling with addiction. He was in a program designed specifically for veterans.

Sam served twice with the United States Army and was deployed to Iraq. During his first tour, Sam witnessed a severely traumatic event. An Iraqi civilian, whom he developed a friendship with, was shot right in front of him. Sam assisted in transporting the dying victim to medical personnel. This event has had a lasting impact on Sam. He was discharged honorably and subsequently reenlisted.

During his second enlistment, he began experiencing many of the hallmark symptoms of PTSD and began experimenting with alcohol and marijuana. This led to an “other than honorable” discharge. It is extremely difficult for veterans to receive benefits with a “bad discharge.” Fortunately, Sam’s first enlistment was honorable.

Sam called HAP in hopes of getting service-connected benefits for his PTSD and other related conditions. HAP attorney, Neha Yadav, helped him Sam gather medical documentation and wrote a letter brief on his behalf to the Veteran’s Administration (VA).

In November 2014, Sam was given a fair disability rating by the VA and was awarded service-connected benefits (over $1,300 per month going forward). He also received several thousand dollars in back benefits. Sam is now able to continue his schooling.

April 2014: HAP first met “Robert” at a clinic at Impact Services. After the meeting, Gabriel Vidoni (Gabe), a HAP volunteer and an associate at Pepper Hamilton, requested inpatient treatment records dating back to 1978 from Fitzsimons Army Medical Center. The records, which the VA had never obtained, revealed that the Robert’s symptoms of schizophrenia began while he was on active duty.

On Robert’s behalf, Gabe filed a Fully Developed Claim, an expedited claim that allows the VA to make an immediate decision if all necessary information is in the file. Gabe wrote a mini-brief in support of the application explaining why Robert was entitled to service-connected benefits, and why the VA shouldn’t delay in making the decision.

Upon receiving the application, the VA scheduled a psychiatric evaluation. The doctor, who conducted the evaluation, agreed with Gabe’s position –that Robert’s mental health problems began in 1978 while he was on active duty. As a result, the VA granted Robert 100% service-connected benefits of $2,858/month, tax-free. Also, because Gabe filed a Fully Developed Claim, the veteran was entitled to back benefits for an entire year, even though the claim was only pending for three months.

Thanks to Gabe’s thorough research and representation, Robert received over $30,000 in retroactive benefits in addition to the future ongoing monthly payments of $2,858. Robert couldn’t believe that he received the award and was extremely grateful for the legal representation he received. In only nine months, Gabe’s advocacy accomplished what this very ill client was unable to do on his own in the 36 years he’d been seeking help from the VA.

November 2013: On November 22, Ethan Fogel, a HAP board member and partner at Dechert, provided emergency free legal help to a veteran dying from cancer.

Earlier that day, HAP got a call from a distressed case manager at the Corporal Michael J. Crescenz VA Medical Center in West Philadelphia. She was working with a veteran dying of cancer who was having trouble getting assurances from his intensive case manager and the social service organization serving as his representative payee that his wishes regarding his modest savings from his SSDI benefits would be honored. The agencies argued that in the event of the veteran’s death, they were required to return his savings to the Social Security Administration absent a Will or Power of Attorney. It was possible that the veteran would not survive the weekend and might not have time to execute those vital documents.

HAP advocated on the veteran’s behalf with both of the service providers, but no agreement was reached. When Ethan, who was volunteering at a HAP legal clinic that afternoon, learned about the veteran’s problem, he immediately went to the VA Medical Center to draft the necessary documents for the veteran.

With support from his colleagues back at the office, Ethan wrote a Will that reflected the veteran’s wishes. The case manager and the VA doctor served as the witnesses. The case manager told HAP Ethan’s help did more than just solve the veteran’s legal problem; it gave him one of the few opportunities he’s ever had to exercise some control over his own life, something that was incredibly meaningful to him during this difficult time.

September 2013: In January 2012, HAP Attorney Michael Taub and HAP volunteer Eric Henry (DLA Piper) met “Mike, ”a homeless veteran suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which included severe symptoms of isolation, hypervigilence, nightmares, insomnia, and flashbacks of his time in war zones.

Mr. Henry, himself a Marine Corps and Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran, agreed to work on Mike’s claim for service connected benefits. Eric gathered all of Mike’s service personnel and medical records, which traced his service from enlistment to discharge, from the United States to Iraq and Afghanistan and back home again.

After filing a claim, the VA scheduled Mike for a routine mental health evaluation, but Eric feared that Mike would likely avoid sharing with the examining psychologist much of what he participated in and witnessed during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and would downplay the severity and range of his symptoms. In preparation, Eric had several long and emotional conversations with Mike until he convinced him that honesty with the psychologist was essential for establishing his entitlement to benefits. Ultimately, the VA granted Mike a 50% service connected disability rating, at $810.00 per month. It also awarded him more than $12,000 in back benefits.

Mike was stunned. He now had the funds to support his newborn child. He told Eric of his plans to go back to school using the GI Bill and planned to continue in treatment for PTSD.

The full story appeared in the September issue of the Bar Reporter.

September 2013: In January 2012, HAP Attorney Michael Taub and HAP volunteer Eric Henry (DLA Piper) met “Mike, ”a homeless veteran suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which included severe symptoms of isolation, hypervigilence, nightmares, insomnia, and flashbacks of his time in war zones.

Mr. Henry, himself a Marine Corps and Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran, agreed to work on Mike’s claim for service connected benefits. Eric gathered all of Mike’s service personnel and medical records, which traced his service from enlistment to discharge, from the United States to Iraq and Afghanistan and back home again.

After filing a claim, the VA scheduled Mike for a routine mental health evaluation, but Eric feared that Mike would likely avoid sharing with the examining psychologist much of what he participated in and witnessed during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and would downplay the severity and range of his symptoms. In preparation, Eric had several long and emotional conversations with Mike until he convinced him that honesty with the psychologist was essential for establishing his entitlement to benefits. Ultimately, the VA granted Mike a 50% service connected disability rating, at $810.00 per month. It also awarded him more than $12,000 in back benefits.

Mike was stunned. He now had the funds to support his newborn child. He told Eric of his plans to go back to school using the GI Bill and planned to continue in treatment for PTSD.

The full story appeared in the September issue of the Bar Reporter

June 2013: HAP volunteer Elizabeth Klaproth, a Buchanan Ingersoll attorney, worked with HAP Senior Staff attorney Patricia Malley, to successfully secure SSI SOAR benefits for a 25-year-old Iraqi refugee, GJ, who had worked as a driver for the U.S. Army in Iraq and had been shot six times by terrorists. GJ was shot in the head, chest, arm, hand and both legs, resulting in permanent injuries to his leg and arm and total mutilation of his hand, with constant severe pain, requiring over 30 surgeries and resulting in likely amputation of his arm. GJ also suffered from severe PTSD and major depression and had attempted suicide.

GJ had been forced to leave his family in Iraq and flee to Jordan. He was eventually granted refugee status in the U.S. due to his work with the U.S. Army and the danger to which he would be exposed if he returned to Iraq.

When GJ was referred to HAP, he was facing eviction and had filed for disability benefits but was waiting almost a year for a favorable decision. Elizabeth filed for SSI benefits for GJ through HAP’s SOAR Project, which provides access to Social Security disability benefits on an expedited basis. 20 days later, GJ was approved for disability and shortly thereafter, he began receiving ongoing benefits, as well as a large lump sum payment for back-benefits from February 2012. With the back payments, GJ was able to secure independent housing and is now applying for a green card.

May 2013: Most states require a birth certificate to obtain a photo ID and require a photo ID to obtain a birth certificate. Without a photo ID, HAP clients are denied access to housing, state and federal benefits, and aren’t eligible for employment. Providing the necessary documentation to prove one’s identification and birth can be quite challenging for homeless clients who have lost access to all or most of their belongings.

In July 2010, Michele Levy, HAP’s managing attorney, met “Lisa” at HAP’s legal clinic at The Salvation Army Eliza Shirley House. Just 24-years-old, Lisa was born at home in the state of Washington. Michele gradually compiled evidence of the Lisa’s birth in Seattle, including immunization and health department records from 14 months of age. Washington’s vital records agency, however, refused to issue a delayed birth certificate and any further action required court action in Washington State.

Michele’s attempts to coordinate with a legal service program in Washington went unanswered because none provided representation on birth matters. Likewise, birth records did not fall within the priorities of the Bar Association’s pro bono work.

Finally, Michele prevailed by coordinating with HAP’s partnering law firm, DLA Piper, who had offices in Seattle. HAP board member and volunteer, Joe Kernen, who works in DLA Piper’s Philadelphia office, found Tyson Harper, a partner in DLA Piper’s Seattle office. Tyler took on the Lisa’s case.

Ty found that it was challenging to maintain contact from across the country with a young and homeless mother, who moved several times and whose telephone frequently didn’t work. Ty persisted. He filed a petition with the Superior Court of Washington State for King County and represented Lisa at a hearing during which she participated by telephone. On March 2, 2013, the Court entered an Order directing Washington’s Department of Vital Statistics to create a Washington State birth registration and to create a delayed birth certificate for Lisa.

Almost three years after her initial application, Lisa received her birth certificate. Now, many barriers she had faced would be eliminated. She could now secure a Pennsylvania photo ID and, apply for housing, employment, and a whole host of other services. Lisa is on her way to improving life for herself and her children.

As of September 2012, HAP has helped more than 1,025 homeless men and women access federal SSI disability benefits through HAP’s celebrated (SSI/SSDI Outreach Access and Recovery), the first fast-track application process for disabled homeless individuals in Pennsylvania. Before accessing stable SSI income through SOAR, many of these disabled individuals experienced repeated and prolonged periods of homelessness due to serious mental illness and other medical infirmities.

In August 2012, Pennsylvania eliminated General Assistance (GA), a program of last resort which provided a meager $205 a month to poor residents too sick to work. In response to the dire need resulting from these cuts, HAP turned to our corps of approximately 375 pro bono volunteers to increase our capacity to provide representation to permanently disabled clients through the SOAR Project. Geanne Zelkowitz, a Dechert attorney and twenty-year HAP volunteer, was the first to answer HAP’s call for support. Geanne met her first SOAR client at St. John’s Hospice where Dechert has adopted HAP’s legal clinic.

When Geanne first met Mr. J., he felt hopeless and dejected about his ability to move beyond homelessness. Despite suffering from several serious medical conditions, Mr. J.’s previous claim for SSI benefits had been denied and when his GA benefits were terminated, he was left with no income.

With her SOAR training by HAP, Geanne felt certain that Mr. J. was a good candidate for the SOAR Project. Similarly, with her past SSI experience, she was not surprised that, like the majority of disabled homeless claimants, his prior SSI application had been denied despite his serious illnesses. Mr. J. suffered from a myriad of physical ailments, including debilitating sarcoidosis that invaded his lungs and surrounded his heart. The resulting pain and shortness of breath were so severe that he was hospitalized fifteen times in the two years prior to his meeting Geanne. Partially, due to his dire health situation, Mr. J. had become severely depressed and anxious. He was living in a safe haven for homeless men and had been assigned a mental health intensive case manager.

Geanne, following the SOAR protocol, filed a new claim for SSI benefits on Mr. J.’s behalf. She collected medical evidence, including new records that indicated his mental health struggle was now a significant factor in his disability. As per SOAR guidelines, Geanne wrote an informal letter which introduced the claimant, documented his medical and mental health problems, and provided examples of the resulting functional limitations he experienced. From Geanne’s letter, the SOAR adjudicator saw how the client’s deteriorating health, severe pain, and ever-increasing depression and anxiety precluded him from working in any significant way. He was found presumptively disabled the day his claim arrived with the adjudicator. A fully favorable final decision was entered the next day, just 34 days after the new claim had been filed.

The success of HAP’s SOAR Project is the result of dedicated partners working together to help those most in need. Geanne worked with HAP’s SOAR partners at the Social Security Administration and the Bureau of Disability Determination (which makes medical determinations on these claims) to achieve a fast, favorable result on behalf of a sick and desperate client. SOAR produced a wonderful result for Mr. J., who couldn’t be happier or more grateful. Geanne, who had vast experience representing individuals in the traditional SSI process, found great satisfaction representing her client via SOAR, an efficient, effective and quick process with caring and sympathetic partners.

Mr. H served in the United States Army on two separate occasions. For his first tour of duty, he was granted an Honorable Discharge. In the early 1980s, he re-enlisted for a second tour of duty, during which he was sexually assaulted by men in his unit. As a result, Mr. H was severely traumatized, and his performance deteriorated.

Whereas Mr. H received an Honorable Discharge and the right to reenlist based upon his past military performance, after the assault he missed regular duty assignments and was cited for several non-judicial punishments. Rather than provide Mr. H with counseling or assistance, the Army discharged him with an Other Than Honorable (OTH) Discharge. An OTH often makes it hard for a veteran to obtain VA benefits, and Mr. H’s case was no exception.

In January 2008, he applied for service-connected compensation for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) caused by Military Sexual Trauma (MST), but in January 2009, the claim was denied. The VA was concerned by Mr. H’s OTH discharge and alleged that he did not submit enough evidence to substantiate the assault.

Later that Spring, Mr. H attended a HAP legal clinic at the Perimeter, a drop-in center for homeless veterans. Mr. H met with HAP volunteer Deron Green of Dechert LLP, and they reviewed his case to discuss what was needed to reverse the VA’s denial.

Between the Spring and Fall of 2009, Deron regularly consulted with Mr. H. Deron uncovered new evidence from Mr. H’s military service records, which he used to write an exhaustive brief in support of Mr. H’s appeal. While Mr. H’s appeal was pending, his condition deteriorated. He was hospitalized numerous times with repeated thoughts of hurting himself, as he blamed himself for the assault and was ashamed of what had occurred in the Army. During this time, Deron continued to assure Mr. H that the VA would recognize his condition and that he would obtain the benefits he had earned while serving his country.

After much delay, in late 2011, the VA reversed its decision and granted Mr. H total disability for his PTSD. Deron’s brief was so comprehensive and convincing that the VA waived his hearing request and decided the case on his brief alone.

Mr. H now receives $2,673/month tax-free. He also received a back benefits check from the VA for $113,000.

When the VA awarded Mr. H his benefits, he was still receiving inpatient treatment at a VA hospital for his PTSD. Since then, Deron has been receiving cold calls from veterans at the hospital seeking HAP’s contact information for legal representation. This isn’t surprising, as Mr. H has probably been telling his fellow vets what he told Deron when he called Mr. H to inform him of the VA’s decision: “Deron, you saved my life.”

HAP volunteer Ross Bruch, an attorney at Saul Ewing, met Ed, a veteran, at HAP’s bi-monthly legal clinic at the Perimeter, a drop-in center for homeless veterans located in Old City. Ed suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but the VA had denied him compensation based upon Ed’s alleged failure to prove the stressful incidents that he said occurred while aboard the USS Guam during the US invasion of Grenada.

Ross tirelessly researched Ed’s description of what happened and found corroborating evidence of the ship’s participation in the invasion and, more specifically, of Ed’s involvement. Ross submitted the evidence to the VA, which sat on the evidence until Ross worked his way up the VA chain of command and demanded a decision. The VA responded by granting Ed 100% disability, at $2,769/month. It also awarded him more than $53,000 in back benefits. HAP is convinced that Ross’s involvement not only led to the VA’s reversal of the denial, but also that it shortened the waiting time by a year or more.

Ed was extremely grateful and plans to be very careful with the money. In fact, he has already arranged to meet with a financial advisor at his bank. He is also considering creating a will and will let HAP/Saul Ewing know if he needs help in this regard.

69-year-old client, JA, attended HAP’s Sunday Breakfast clinic, requesting assistance in obtaining his New York birth certificate. He was born at home somewhere in Brooklyn, but had no recollection of where his parents lived and New York had no record of his birth. His father was a minister, so his family moved around quite a bit. To apply for a delayed birth record, he needed to verify his identity through school records, baptismal records, census data, marriage, etc. JA’s only real memory of his childhood was the Douglass Jenner school which he attended in Brooklyn as a child.

While Ballard Spahr volunteer Lisa Whitely found information about the school, she also learned that it had burned down in 1962, along with all of its records. Undeterred, Lisa conducted a Freedom of Information Act request of the Social Security Administration to obtain information on JA’s parents’ original application forms that would substantiate potential census data. During that search, Lisa met with a Social Security representative who told her that the SSA also conducts identification research for clients with missing information and that JA could go forward with an application for SSI benefits.

Lisa attended the benefits interview with JA and his case worker and provided sufficient evidence of JA’s work history and verification of his parent’s information to satisfy identification requirements. JA was awarded (and has received) over $25,000 back benefits and is now collecting a monthly SSI check. Lisa then submitted the Social Security Award Letter to New York’s Vital Records, from which she obtained JA’s delayed birth certificate.

JA was overcome with emotion upon learning of the award of benefits at his SSA interview. He was extremely grateful and told Lisa that, up until that moment “he was stuck – he couldn’t go forward, and he couldn’t go back.”  Now he can begin living his dream!