The Veterans Justice Center is a special program of the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, under the umbrella of its Government Benefits legal area. Created in 2000, the Project’s goal is to protect veterans and their families by securing government benefits, and medical care and services, while stabilizing their living situation. It is open to every veteran who is at risk for homelessness as a result of problems obtaining benefits. The Project’s located at LAFLA’s East Los Angeles Office.
Homeless veterans comprise 25 percent of the 73,000 homeless individuals in Los Angeles County. If not homeless, many veterans live in cheap hotels and over-crowded or sub-standard housing, despite the wealth of benefits offered by the Department of Veterans Affairs. A leader in representing veterans in Los Angeles and abroad, the nationally recognized project helps veterans navigate a complex bureaucratic system, which can often deter them from obtaining their benefits.
To speak with someone, please call (800) 399-4529.
For more information about Government Benefits projects and services, please visit the Government Benefits section.
The first website in the nation to focus exclusively on federal legal rights and resources important to veterans is off to a robust start, with visitors from all 50 states and 77 countries worldwide, including Iraq and Afghanistan. The website, StatesideLegal.org was created by Pine Tree Legal Assistance in Portland, Maine, a nonprofit legal aid program funded by the Legal Services Corporation (LSC). The website was launched last November as part of an LSC initiative to expand access to legal services for veterans. In the 15 weeks since the launch, the website has recorded about 79,000 page views, with almost 8,000 in the past two weeks as traffic continues to grow at the site.
"I don’t think there is anything more important than serving our nation’s veterans," LSC Board Chairman John G. Levi said. "Our veterans have defended and protected our most basic freedoms and it is imperative that we reach out to them. The StatesideLegal website also will help the government enhance interagency support to veterans, who deserve the full protection of our legal system."
An honorably discharged veteran of the U.S. Army and of the Vietnam War, “Ben” never thought his life would end up being such a struggle. He would get married; have a couple a kids and a maybe throw a Sunday BBQ every now and again, he thought to himself. However, the ravages of war and an economy that preferred not to include the likes of men like Ben, eventually took its toll on him.
Struggling to survive, Ben traveled from place to place looking to put a roof over his head and a meal in his belly. Ben’s quest for food and shelter, however, was a daily struggle. Ben’s monthly general relief of $212 was barely enough to get by.
Moving from shelter to shelter, Ben was told of the work that LAFLA’s Bill Smith Homeless Veterans Project (BSHVP) has performed on behalf of thousands of veterans in Los Angeles. Ben thought to himself, “what the hell, I have absolutely nothing to lose,” so he placed a call to the BSHVP and requested help.
BSHVP staff spoke with Ben and went right to work. They obtained military records and filed a claim for benefits with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). BSHVP staff argued that Ben’s present physical limitations, coupled with his homelessness and inability to work entitled him to a VA pension.
After working with staff from the VA Regional Office, the VA granted Ben’s claim for pension and paid him nearly $15,000 in retroactive benefits. In addition to Ben’s retroactive award, Ben will receive medial care, housing assistance and nearly $950.00 a month is additional, pension benefits.
When Ben learned of his award, he wept and then yelled, “I going to buy me a steak dinner!” Ben has been reunited with his estranged son and now lives in his very own duplex-house.
A legal resident from Mexico, Eduardo* joined the US Army envisioning the honor and respect he would enjoy for serving his adopted country. He proudly finished boot camp and received the accolades bestowed upon the American soldier. During his service in the Army, Eduardo contracted a serious blood disorder, which attacked his liver and heart. Eventually, Eduardo was honorably discharged from the military with the promise he would receive military compensation benefits. Unfortunately, Eduardo’s benefits never arrived.
Eduardo’s disability scarred him mentally and physically. Unable to work and without a means to support himself, he ended up destitute, homeless and without hope. Eduardo sought help from the Veteran’s Administration (VA) to piece his life together. The VA offered him a fraction of the needed assistance; that his condition did not warrant more. Moreover, Eduardo stated that the VA withheld his benefits due to his only being a US resident and not a citizen. Homeless, Eduardo wandered from shelter to shelter, his appeals for more assistance from the VA falling on deaf ears.
Eventually Eduardo entered a program for veterans who suffer from homelessness and various disabilities. Learning of Eduardo’s situation, personnel at that program contacted attorneys at Bill Smith Homeless Veterans Project (BSHVP) to see if they could help Eduardo receive justice. After a lengthy fight with the VA, the administration conceded that Eduardo’s disabilities were a result of his service and was subsequently found completely disabled. BSHVP attorneys were able to obtain nearly $63,000.00 dollars in retroactive benefits, including a generous monthly stipend, medical care, and supported services. Because of the BSHVP, Eduardo has traveled to Mexico and Puerto Rico to visit family and friends, and is no longer homeless. He now enjoys not only the honor and respect for service to his adopted country, but our gratitude as well.
*Eduardo is not his real name.