Lance Corporal Claude served four years active duty in the Marine Corp. and about a year in the Army from 2002-2006 and 2008-2009 respectively. While in the Marines, Claude was deployed to Iraq for 11 months.
Upon being discharged from active duty in 2009, Claude lived a fairly-normal and independent life using his GI Bill to cover the costs of school and rent and living off service-connected disability benefits to cover the rest of his expenses. However, his combat experiences started to catch up with him and Claude began to heavily drink alcohol and use drugs to quiet his suffering. Substance abuse led to Claude dropping out of school and being evicted from his apartment, becoming homeless.
Subsequently, the Department of Veterans Affairs declared Claude incompetent to handle his own finances and contacted his family to seek a fiduciary. Reeling from the discovery of how rapidly their son’s condition had regressed, Claude’s mother requested that the VA designate her as the fiduciary over Claude’s finances and moved him back into her home. Unfortunately, due to the lapsing of procedural deadlines, the VA designated a private fiduciary to manage Claude’s VA benefit checks.
After hitting what most would call “rock bottom,” Claude was enrolled in specialized treatment with the VA and sought out assistance from the United Way of Broward County’s Mission United. Channeling his military spirit, Claude began the fight to regain control and, with help from his fellow Veterans, started to make progress toward normality.
After a few months of treatment Claude re-enrolled in classes at Broward College. However, Claude’s inability to directly access his finances made purchasing books and school supplies difficult. Even with these hiccups, Claude maintained a 3.2 GPA for the semester. Wanting to regain his independence, Clause made phone calls and sent hand-written letters to VA requesting that they reconsider his need for a fiduciary. However, these letters went unanswered.
Not knowing where to turn, Claude contacted his Mission United case manager and was referred to Legal Aid for placement with the Veteran’s Pro Bono Project. From there, Claude met with a pro bono attorney who was able to establish a plan of action. Working together on his case, Claude and his volunteer attorney were able to navigate the procedural maze of VA regulations and began the process of having Claude’s need for a fiduciary reevaluated. The team submitted legal briefs, medical opinions, and VA forms and within six months the VA rendered a decision: “Veteran is competent to manage his finances.” Within two months Claude began to directly receive his VA service-connected disability and was sent a large sum of money that was being held by the fiduciary.
*Names have been changed to protect the privacy of our clients.