My Turn: Beyond ‘Thank you for your service’

  • mactrunk

Published: 11/12/2021 5:07:10 PM

As we celebrate our veterans on Veterans Day, we must also acknowledge what we, as their country and their community, can do better to honor their sacrifices.

While our region’s veteran population is diverse, it includes many particularly vulnerable veterans who receive care at the Edward P. Boland VA Medical Center in Leeds or who have been attracted to the area for the deep support and benefits available to veterans. Unfortunately, sometimes benefits are only “available” on paper. While the VA provides compensation and financial for service-connected mental health injuries, it does not provide the legal support that is often necessary to access this critical support.

This is a particular challenge for veterans living with mental health challenges that make navigating the complicated process even more difficult than it already is. This is one of many areas where Community Legal Aid, with financial support from the United Way of the Franklin and Hampshire region, steps in to bridge the gap and secure for Veterans the benefits to which they are entitled.

In a recent case, Community Legal Aid assisted a veteran who had experienced a traumatic sexual assault during their service. As a direct result of this assault, the veteran lives with PTSD that affects every aspect of their life, including their ability to support themselves financially. Between the passage of time and lack of documentation, the veteran was denied financial support by the VA Benefits Administration, even though the connection between their PTSD and their service was clear to their providers at the VA Medical Center.

Through Community Legal Aid’s Veteran Medical Legal Partnership, the VA referred the veteran’s case to Community Legal Aid. We reviewed the veteran’s records and worked closely with their medical providers to demonstrate that their current health struggles arose from their military service. We identified an error the VA made and ensured that the veteran now has full access to the compensation they earned. As a result of this advocacy, the Veteran is now receiving sufficient monthly income that they no longer live below the poverty line.

Year after year, annual surveys by the VA show that over half of the top ten unmet needs for veterans are legal needs. Community Legal Aid, in collaboration with the VA Medical Center and with the financial support of the United Way of the Franklin and Hampshire Region, stepped up to fill this need.

When celebrating and honoring our veterans, we must be mindful that more work is necessary to keep the promises our country made to them when they enlisted. Community Legal Aid is proud to do our part to keep these promises.

Daniel Bahls is the staff attorney for Community Legal Aid’s Medical-Legal Partnership with the Edward P. Boland VA Medical Center in Leeds. He is a resident of Florence.

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