LSC Volunteers at Stand Down Event for Veterans

LSC Volunteers at Stand Down Event for Veterans

On Friday, August 28, 2015, attorneys and volunteers from the Legal Services Center participated in Massachusetts Stand Down 2015 and provided free legal assistance to scores of homeless and at-risk veterans.

Stand Down, organized by the New England Center for Homeless Vets, is a day-long event that provides an opportunity for veterans who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless to connect with service providers. In addition to legal assistance, services included housing and job assistance, clothing provision, medical and dental care, haircuts, and free meals. The event was held in tents set up by the Massachusetts National Guard in the parking lot of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 103 in Dorchester.

“I came away with an overriding sense of gratitude that we were given the chance to meet directly with veterans in need and provide immediate assistance,” said Julie McCormack, Director of the Disability Litigation & Benefits Advocacy Project at LSC. “Some veterans came to the tent in real crisis, and Stand Down created an opportunity for us to be there in the right place at the right time.”

From L-R: Julie McCormack, Robert Proctor, Chris Melendez, Kristin Antolini, Tammy Kolz Griffin, Dana Montalto, Maureen McDonagh, Julia Devanthery, Roger Bertling, Betsy Gwin, Keith Fogg, Dehlia Umunna, Nnena Odim, and Daniel Nagin. (Not pictured: Lisa Bernt)

From L-R: Julie McCormack, Robert Proctor, Chris Melendez, Kristin Antolini, Tammy Kolz Griffin, Dana Montalto, Maureen McDonagh, Julia Devanthery, Roger Bertling, Betsy Gwin, Keith Fogg, Dehlia Umunna, Nnena Odim, and Daniel Nagin. (Not pictured: Lisa Bernt)

LSC staffed the legal assistance tent for half the day, providing pro bono legal consultations to nearly 50 veterans. Ten attorneys from across LSC’s clinics and practice areas participated, advising veterans in the areas of VA and disability benefits, SNAP and other public benefits, tax controversies, housing law, family law, estate planning, and consumer law. LSC also recruited volunteer attorneys from the Fair Employment Project, the Northeast Justice Center, and Harvard’s Criminal Justice Institute to provide advice on employment law, family law, and criminal law matters.

Volunteering at Stand Down is just one example of outreach by LSC to meet the legal needs of our community. LSC also sponsors the People’s Law School, where attorneys and law students provide free legal education to community members. The next People’s Law School event will be held in November 2015 and will focus on the needs of veterans.

Two Project on Predatory Student Lending Alumni Testify to Department of Education

Two alumni of the Project on Predatory Student Lending testified to the Department of Education in support of the rights of borrowers treated unfairly by for-profit colleges to a fair, effective, and efficient process to get their federal student loans discharged. Over the past two weeks the Department held hearings in Washington, D.C. and San Francisco to allow the public to comment on its upcoming rulemaking, and to propose new topics to add to the agenda.

Megumi Tsutsui was a student in the clinic in 2013, after working with the Project as a volunteer in 2012. She is currently an Equal Justice Works Fellow at Housing and Economic Rights Advocates (HERA) in Oakland, California, where she works to eliminate barriers to affordable credit. Megumi shared the story of a borrower deceived and ripped off by one of the Corinthian schools campuses in California, and urged the Department to create “a clear and transparent process that is easily accessible for students eligible to receive a discharge of their loans under defense to repayment.” She also highlighted the need for automatic relief for groups of borrowers who are affected by widespread misconduct within a given program, school, or group of schools, and encouraged the Department to investigate when it sees signs of widespread misconduct and to identify students who have been affected and are eligible for discharge.

Mike Firestone, a student in the clinic in 2012-13 and current Director of Strategic Initiatives and Assistant Attorney General in the office of Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, delivered powerful testimony urging the Department “to establish simple processes for impacted students to seek the relief to which they are entitled by law and by contracts,” and asking the Department to “rely on conclusions and investigative findings reached by state Attorneys General regarding state law violations and provide discharges without requiring individual students to make a submission to the Department.” He described some of the impressive efforts that Attorney General Healey’s office has pursued to help borrowers harmed by for-profit schools, including lawsuits against several schools, as well as hundreds of hours of outreach to borrowers. He said, “Relief must not be limited just to those who can hire a lawyer, or those who know the magic words about placement rates to communicate in an attestation. . . . These students are counting on us to enforce the law and fight for them.”

We are incredibly proud of their advocacy on behalf of low-income people who have been harmed by widespread lawless, unfair, and deceptive conduct by for-profit schools, and gratified that they continue to work on behalf of their clinical clients’ interests years after each of them left the clinic.