Volunteer Success Stories
Volunteer Lori Lasher, Reed Smith
June 2016: Lori Lasher is a long term HAP Board Member and legal volunteer at HAP’s Project HOME legal clinic. She shared this success 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 Ms. 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 that 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.
Michael Taub, HAP Attorney and Volunteer Jack Regenbogen, Penn Law Student
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 proceeded to show the volunteer a number of serious criminal convictions that he denied having any knowledge of. Two of the alleged convictions were for Megan’s Law offenses in states that DB insisted he never visited. On top of these, the background report indicated that DB had been repeatedly evicted from public housing in the Pittsburg area.
No wonder the landlord wouldn’t rent to DB. Very few landlords would have. But DB never wavered. He was adamant from the very start that he hadn’t committed these crimes or been evicted from public housing before, and he needed help clearing the background report so that future landlords would give him a chance.
Volunteer Paul Nofer, Klehr Harrison
July 2015: Volunteer attorney Paul Nofer, a partner at Klehr Harrison and new HAP volunteer
learned that he won approximately $23,000 in back SSI disability benefits for a HAP client. Paul began representing HAP client Mr. T., a 62 year old St. John’s Hospice resident, in April 2014. 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. Paul represented the client, who, although very impaired has a very limited medical and mental health treatment history, at a hearing in January 2015. 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 the client’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!
Volunteer Jared Leon, Dilworth Paxson
March 2015: Jared Leon, a new Dilworth Paxson associate successfully managed a complicated SSI matter for a mother with two sons with disabilities. The sons were diagnosed as potentially having 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. In addition, 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 situation. Jared took on both cases. He learned that the DHS flagging of the children resulted from one of the children being burned by an unsafe radiator that resulted from the family’s landlord failing to properly maintain their apartment, thus clearing up any implication of abuse. He 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 and other paperwork and certifications and ultimately used this material to support his submission to SSI ALJ. The children’s benefits were approved in March 2015 and the family’s income nearly tripled as a result. The mother made a special effort to thank Jared, Dilworth Paxson and Hap for “profoundly” changing their lives.
Volunteer Angela Guarino, Blank Rome
June 2014: Blank Rome volunteer Angela Guarino went the extra mile and had a successful outcome with her very first HAP case! The client RG first appeared at the Eliza Shirley Clinic in February, 2014. RG was a 52 year old woman who was suffering from serious mental illness and who was also fleeing from extreme domestic abuse. She presented paperwork indicating that she had a 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 didn’t want to attend the hearing as she was feeling very anxious. Angela arranged to pick up RG the next day by taxi and accompanied her to the hearing. At that time, Angela presented the client’s testimony, in addition to 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 at the outcome!
Neha Yadav, HAP
May 2014: A young Iraqi veteran called the Homeless Advocacy Project in an attempt to begin rebuilding his life. The young man, Sam, was staying in Impact Services transitional housing that is designed to assist 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 unfortunately witnessed a severely traumatic event. An Iraqi civilian, whom he developed a friendship with, was shot and killed right in front of him. Sam witnessed the event and had to assist in transporting the victim to medical personnel while he was dying. This event has had a lasting impact on the veteran. He was discharged honorably and subsequently reenlisted. Unfortunately, during his second enlistment Sam began experiencing many of the hallmark symptoms of PTSD and began experimenting with alcohol and marijuana. This led to an “other than honorable” discharge. Although it is extremely difficult for veterans to receive benefits with a “bad discharge” fortunately for Sam his first enlistment was honorable.
The veteran called HAP in hopes of getting service-connected benefits for his PTSD and other related conditions. HAP attorney, Neha Yadav, assisted Sam in gathering medical documentation and writing a letter brief on his behalf to the Veteran’s Administration. In November 2014, Sam was given a fair disability rating by the veteran’s administration and was awarded service-connected benefits (over $1,300 per month going forward). In addition, he was awarded several thousand dollars in back benefits. Sam is now able to continue his schooling.
Volunteer Gabriel Vidoni, Pepper Hamilton
April 2014: HAP volunteer Gabriel Vidoni (Gabe), an associate at Pepper Hamilton LLP, in April 2014 won over $30,000 in back compensation as well as over $2,800 in future ongoing monthly benefits for a homeless veteran who had been pursuing compensation from the Veteran’s Administration (VA) since he became fully disabled while serving honorably in the US Army during the 1970s.
HAP first met the client at a clinic at Impact Services. After the meeting, the volunteer requested inpatient treatment records from Fitzsimons Army Medical Center dating back to 1978. The records, which the VA had never obtained, revealed that the veteran’s symptoms of schizophrenia began while he was on active duty. Gabe then filed on behalf of the client, a Fully Developed Claim, an expedited claim that allows the VA to make an immediate decision if everything necessary is in the file. Gabe wrote a mini-brief in support of the application explaining why the client was entitled to service-connected benefits, and why the VA shouldn’t delay making the decision. Upon receiving the application, the VA scheduled the veteran for a psychiatric evaluation. The doctor who conducted the evaluation agreed with Gabe’s position – namely, that the veteran’s mental health problems began in 1978 while he was on active duty. As a result, the VA granted the veteran 100% service-connected benefits of $2,858/month, tax free. Also, because the volunteer 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, the veteran received over $30,000 in retroactive benefits in addition to the future ongoing monthly payment of $2,858. The veteran 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 his very ill client was unable to do on his own in the 36 years he'd been seeking help from the VA.
Thanksgiving Success Story – Volunteer Ethan Fogel, Dechert
November 2013: What are we at HAP thankful for this Thanksgiving? The pleasure of working with long-time volunteers like Ethan Fogel, a HAP board member and partner at Dechert,LLP. On November 22, Ethan showed his dedication to HAP and our clients by going above and beyond to provide emergency free legal help to a veteran dying from cancer.
Earlier that day, HAP received a call from a distressed case manager at the VA medical center in West Philadelphia. She explained that 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 would be honored regarding his modest savings from his SSDI benefits. The agencies were arguing 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. Unfortunately, it was possible that the veteran would not survive the weekend and therefore might not have time to execute those vital documents.
HAP advocated on the veteran's behalf with both of the service providers, but could not reach an agreement. When Ethan heard about the veteran's problem at a HAP legal clinic that afternoon, he didn’t hesitate to act. He left the clinic and went directly to the VA Medical Center to draft the necessary documents for the veteran.
Volunteer Chuck Ercole, Klehr Harrison
November 2013: HAP volunteer and former board member Chuck Ercole, a partner a Klehr Harrison, along with law student intern Justin Metz, from the Earle Mack School of Law at Drexel University, obtained a fully favorable disability decision from an Administrative Law Judge for a man who had struggled for years without the income he needed to maintain housing. We're so lucky to have longtime HAP volunteers like Chuck sharing the value of pro bono work with talented law students like Justin! Way to go, Chuck and Justin!
Volunteer Eric Henry, DLA Piper
September 2013: In January 2012, HAP Attorney Michael Taub and volunteer Eric Henry (DLA Piper) met 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 the veteran's claim for service connected benefits. Eric gathered all of the veteran’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 the veteran for a routine mental health evaluation, but Eric feared that the veteran 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 the veteran until he convinced the veteran that honesty with the psychologist was essential for establishing his entitlement to benefits. Ultimately, the VA granted the veteran a 50 percent service connected disability rating, at $810.00 per month. It also awarded the veteran more than $12,000 in back benefits.
The veteran was stunned – he now had the funds to support his newborn child and told Eric of his plans to go back to school using the GI Bill and his intention to continue in treatment for PTSD.
The full story appeared in the September issue of the Bar Reporter.
Volunteer Elizabeth Klaproth, Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney
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 6 times by terrorists. This young man 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 suffers from severe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Major Depression and has attempted suicide. He had been forced to leave his family in Iraq and flee to Jordan and 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 deicision. 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, he was able to secure independent housing and is now applying for a green card.
Michele Levy, HAP and Volunteer Tyson Harper, DLA Piper
May 2013: One of the most basic but critical problems HAP attorneys encounter are clients without a photo ID or birth certificate. 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. Unfortunately, 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.
Michele Levy, HAP's managing attorney, met a client in July 2010 at a legal clinic HAP held at the Salvation Army's Eliza Shirley House. Just 24 years old, she was born at home in the state of Washington. Michele gradually compiled evidence of the client's birth in Seattle, even dating back to 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. Read More.
Volunteer Geanne Zelkowitz, Dechert
As of September 2012, HAP has helped more than 1,025 homeless men and women access federal SSI disability benefits through HAP's celebrated SOAR Project, the first fast-track application process for disabled homeless individuals in Pennsylvania. Before accessing stable SSI income through SOAR (SSI/SSDI Outreach Access and Recovery), many of these disabled individuals experienced repeated and prolonged periods of homelessness due to serious mental illness and other medical infirmities. SOAR enabled them to quickly obtain sufficient income to secure safe and supportive housing along with much-needed stability.
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 veteran volunteer, was the first volunteer 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. Read More.
Volunteer Deron Green, Dechert
Mr. H served in the United States Army on two separate occasions. For his first tour of duty, he was granted an Honorable discharge. He then re-enlisted for a second tour of duty in the early 1980s. During this second tour of duty, Mr. H was sexually assaulted by other men in his unit. As a result of the assault, Mr. H was severely traumatized, and his performance deteriorated as a result. Whereas his performance in the past warranted an Honorable Discharge and the right to re-enlist, after the assault he was missing regular duty assignments and cited for several non-judicial punishments. Rather than provide Mr. H with counseling or assistance, the Army subsequently discharged him with an Other Than Honorable discharge (OTH). 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) as a result of Military Sexual Trauma (MST), but in January 2009, the claim was denied. Not only was the VA concerned with Mr. H's OTH discharge, it also alleged that he did not submit enough evidence to substantiate the assault. Later that Spring, Mr. H attended a HAP clinic at the Perimeter, a drop-in center for homeless vets where HAP holds a legal clinic. Mr. H met with HAP volunteer Deron Green of Dechert LLP, and the two reviewed his case to discuss what was needed to reverse the VA's denial. Read More.
Volunteer Ross Bruch, Saul Ewing
HAP volunteer Ross Bruch an attorney at Saul Ewing, met the veteran at HAP's bi-monthly legal clinic at the Perimeter, a drop in center for homeless veterans located in Old City. Veteran suffers from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but VA had denied compensation based on vet's alleged failure to prove the stressful incidents that occurred while aboard the USS Guam during the US invasion of Grenada. Ross then tirelessly researched the vet's description of what happened and found corroborating evidence of the ship's participation in the invasion and, more specifically, of the vet's involvement. He then submitted the evidence to the VA, which sat on the evidence until Ross proceeded to work his way up the VA chain of command and demand a decision. VA responded by granting the veteran 100% disability, at $2,769/month. It also awarded over $53,000 in back benefits. This is obviously a life changing development for this homeless veteran, and HAP is convinced that Ross's involvement not only led to VA's reversal of the denial, but that it also shortened the waiting time by a year or more.
Ross reports that the veteran is ecstatic. He 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 know if he would like help in this regard.
Overall a great win for the veteran, Ross, and Saul's pro bono commitment to homeless veterans in partnership with HAP.
Volunteer Lisa Whitley, Ballard Spahr
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 at the time and New York had no record of his birth. His father was a minister, so his family moved around quite a bit. In order to apply for a delayed birth record, he needed to verify his identity through school records, baptismal records, census data, marriage, etc. JA had very vague recollections of his childhood and his only real memory was the Douglass Jenner school which he attended in Brooklyn as a child.
While Ballard Spahr volunteer Lisa Whitely was able to find information about the school, she also learned that it had burned down in 1962, along with all of its records. Undeterred, Lisa conducted a FOIA request of the Social Security Administration in an effort to obtain information on JA’s parents’ original application forms that would substantiate potential census data. During the course of 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. Read More.