Volunteer Success Stories
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.