The Toledo Bar Association (TBA) Pro Bono Legal Services program was selected as one of three winners of the 2020 Veterans Health Administration (VHA) Community Partnership Challenge. The contest is an opportunity to highlight nonmonetary, community partnerships between VHA and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that serve Veterans, their families, caregivers, and survivors. This event enables the Dr. Richard A. Stone, Executive in Charge Veterans Health Administration, to recognize the extraordinary work accomplished through these partnerships.
This year’s contest theme is The Social Determinants of Health (SDOH). Social determinants of health are conditions in the environments in which people live, learn, work, play, worship, and age that affect a wide range of health, functioning, and quality-of-life outcomes and risks. Each submission to this year’s contest showed how a particular partnership benefits Veterans and advances VA’s mission by addressing one or more of six social determinants of health that were the focus for this year’s contest: education, employment, food security, housing, spiritual support, and/or transportation. More than 40 entries were submitted this year!
In partnership with the VA Ann Arbor Medical Center’s Toledo Community Based Outpatient Clinic, the Toledo Bar Association has been providing free monthly walk-in clinics to help Veterans with legal issues that affect social determinants of health such as access to employment and safe housing. The clinic was developed by Michelle M. Tussing, TBA Director of Pro Bono Legal Services and Leslie Witherell, Veterans Justice Outreach Coordinator of the Toledo Community Based Outpatient Clinic in 2015.
Since its inception, 895 Veterans have been served by a team of private practice lawyers, some of whom are Veterans themselves. The success of this program would not be possible without those attorneys who frequently volunteer their time and knowledge. Volunteers include Todd Noll, Cindy M. Kirby, Mike D. Kirby, David J. Borell, Nick P. Wainwright, Jim Jones, Laura M. Dettinger and University of Toledo College of Law students Amelia Wolf and Misty D. Goodrick. Three lawyers who attend the monthly clinics have obtained VA accreditation and are well-versed in benefits and surviving spouse benefits.
The pro-bono attorneys work to prevent and remedy employment discrimination, secure service-connected educational benefits, and assist in securing unemployment compensation and/or unpaid wages. They also help Veterans with eviction notices, landlord-tenant issues, and bankruptcy, which has a direct effect on securing stable, safe housing for Veterans and their families. This partnership aims to release Veterans from legal burdens, which also aids in reducing the overall “stress of life” which, in turn, can also reduce suicidality. The free monthly clinics have saved Veterans more than $344,000 in legal services, in the form of routine specific needs or focus areas such as durable power of attorney.
The award will be received by Tussing and Witherell at a virtual ceremony on August 27, 2020.