Legal clinics offered to veterans at Hefner VA

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, October 16, 2013

SALISBURY — Dealing with legal affairs can be a complicated process, but having the right advice on how to handle them can make all the difference. The W.G. (Bill) Hefner VA Medical Center is now offering veterans help in navigating the legal system by providing legal clinics on campus.
The legal clinics, which began in September, are providing veterans with guidance on basic civil matters like housing cases, mortgage foreclosures, child support modification and defense, wills and powers of attorney. This is possible through a partnership with Legal Aid of North Carolina and Legal Services of Southern Piedmont, who provide two attorneys and one legal assistant for the clinics.
Carolyn Cardwell, Veterans Justice Outreach coordinator for the Salisbury VAMC, said the clinics are providing veterans more options to remedy legal issues.
“I would have veterans calling me with criminal or civil matters, and there wasn’t too much I could do beside give them a letter explaining to the judge that this is our veteran, who needs legal services, who is in treatment, and we would sometimes explain what their diagnosis is, if we are able to discuss it,” she said. “If the veteran is homeless, we would also explain that we are working with the veteran.”
Cardwell said she would also prepare veterans for court appearances.
“Sometimes I will have the veteran come in and do a mock interview with them before they go to court and explain what they should and shouldn’t say to the judge, focusing on what’s more appropriate to say,” she explained.
She went on to say that holding the clinics is really expanding how veterans can get help for legal affairs.
“Now when the veterans come in, they are getting that expertise, that real legal advice that I’m not able to provide since I’m a clinical social worker, not an attorney,” said Cardwell. “I can refer them to help or write a letter to the judge saying these are the treatment options that we have and they are a veteran, but I can’t go further than that.”
Brenda Bergeron, an attorney with Legal Aid of North Carolina, said she is happy to be able to help out veterans.
“It really touches my heart to work with the veterans. They always express so much gratitude and appreciation to me — for someone to just hear their story — for anything I can do,” she said. “Even if it’s just advice, even if I wish I could do more, they are just so appreciative of anything we can do.”
“It’s just real gratifying working with this group. You know that the need is great, you know of the sacrifices they made, so doing this for them is very, very rewarding,” added Bergeron.
Cardwell said the caring spirit that attorneys like Bergeron share with the veterans really makes a difference.
“The partnership with the attorneys coming to the hospital has been an invaluable experience. Most veterans are just grateful for the services we are providing,” she said. “Many of them may have had trouble getting legal aid in the past because of transportation or financial matters, but they feel comfortable here at the VA — they feel at home.”
Salisbury was the first facility in Mid-Atlantic Health Care Network, VISN 6, to hold legal clinics, and the staff are passing along lessons learned to other facilities to help them start similar programs.
The legal clinics are currently being offered the second Tuesday of each month from noon to 2 p.m. in the Homeless offices in Building 11. They take appointments and walk-ins. Veterans who aren’t able to travel can call in between 1:30 p.m. and 2 p.m. There are no charges for the service.
For more information about the legal clinics or legal advice, contact the Veterans Justice Outreach office at 704-638-9000, ext. 4129.
Veterans Justice Outreach assists veterans who suffer from acute and persistent mental illness, through targeted outreach programs, including those experiencing homelessness. The VJO’s mission is to ensure that eligible justice-involved veterans, especially those experiencing homelessness who are involved in the legal system, receive appropriate housing, mental health and substance abuse services.
The VA says it assumes no responsibility for the professional ability or integrity of this program and its posting does not constitute an endorsement or recommendation by VA.