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Pro Bono & Access to Justice

Justice Center Victories

The Justice Center is continually making progress on issues facing New Yorkers in need, making a difference one case at a time. The following are summaries of cases recently handled by two Justice Center projects, the Refugee Assistance Project and the Veterans Assistance Project. Real names have been changed and abbreviated to protect client privacy.

Refugee Assistance Project:
As a committed political and university activist, Mr. M suffered a great deal of hardship in his native Cameroon, having been arrested and imprisoned on multiple occasions. After the last such incident, during which he was brutally tortured over a six-day period, Mr. M fled his home country and sought refuge in the United States. Working with his pro bono attorneys David Massengill, Natalie Shimmel Drucker, and Valentina Casella from the law firm of Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP, he was finally granted asylum in Immigration Court this past week.

Ms. T fled from The Gambia to escape a forced marriage in which she was to become the second wife of an elderly gentleman whom she hardly knew. Her pro bono attorneys, Melissa Francis and Tiasha Palikovic from Mayer Brown LLP, were able to win asylum for her on this basis, as well as the fact that she was a victim of female genital mutilation who suffered from ongoing medical complications as a result of the FGM.

Ms. A suffered violent attacks in her home country of Georgia because of her national origins and Baptist religious beliefs. She was successfully represented in immigration court by longtime pro bono volunteer and retired practitioner Henri Gueron.

Veterans Assistance Project:
Ms. S is a 54 year-old veteran who served for 16 years and was honorably discharged in 2004. She was receiving benefits at 100% for hypertension, diabetes, chronic back pain, and migraines when she approached the project in late 2008. Her husband, also a veteran, is her full-time caretaker. Ms. S was entitled to additional benefits for her husband, but the VA had denied these benefits because they said they couldn't find proof that Ms. S's husband had been officially divorced from his previous wife. Ms. S's attorneys were able to obtain documentation of the divorce and her monthly benefits were appropriately increased.

Mr. J served in the early '70's and was honorably discharged in 1974. He was receiving a small amount of benefits for a service-connected partially amputated ring finger when he contacted the project. After persistent visits by his pro bono attorneys to the VA's New York Regional Office, numerous letters/briefs, and a successful FOIA appeal to the VA's Office of General Counsel, the VA finally granted Mr. J increased benefits for this injury. While Mr. J's attorneys believe there are a few additional avenues for further increasing his benefits, this initial victory is significant for Mr. J., a maintenance worker, as it effectively doubles his monthly cash benefit and may provide additional non-cash benefits because of the increased disability rating.

Mr. L had been seeking benefits for PTSD since 2006 when he contacted the Veterans Assistance Project. His claim for benefits had previously been denied. Despite this denial, Mr. L had classic symptoms of PTSD. He continued to have flashbacks of his duty in Vietnam, experienced sleepless nights, nightmares, mood swings and anxiety attacks, and was increasingly withdrawn. Mr. L's volunteer attorney compiled additional evidence and filed an appeal. In October, Mr. L was notified that he had been given a 50% disability rating for PTSD, entitling him to $770 a month and over $30,000 in back payment.