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Sanders teams up with legal clinic for vet assistance

Photo by Ken Maldonado
By Patrick Donachie

Queens Legal Services is teaming up with state Sen. James Sanders (D-Rochdale Village) to offer a free legal assistance clinic for veterans starting this month.

Cindy Katz, the coordinator of the Veterans Justice Project at Queens Legal Services, will be on hand as the in-house lawyer. Katz has 30 years of experience and is authorized to practice law before the Veterans Administration. From her past experience with the Veterans Justice Project, she hopes the program will serve as a resource for veterans struggling to navigate an institution like the VA.

“It’s outreach to people who may not have otherwise thought of contacting us, because they didn’t know we existed or didn’t think they were within our financial eligibility,” she said, noting that she expected housing and child support issues to be prominent requests for assistance. “The cases we see foremost are housing related, veterans facing eviction because something catastrophic happened and are unable to pay the rent.”

Veterans interested must call Sanders’ office at (718) 523-3069 to schedule an appointment. Sanders lauded the clinic as a helping hand to a vulnerable population tasked with dealing with the VA, an institution often criticized for its byzantine structure.

“As a Marine Corps veteran, I know how complicated it can be to navigate the VA system and the problems that service members often encounter when trying to obtain benefits, discharge upgrades, housing and healthcare,” he said.

Katz explained that it can be very difficult for veterans suffering from PTSD or other mental health issues to maintain the kind of consistent employment that enables them to pay child support. She also noted that landlords are sometimes reticent to accept Section 8 or other housing vouchers offered to veterans after the completion of their services.

“It’s very difficult when you’re suffering from mental health issues to navigate those systems,” she said. “A lot of veterans don’t even know where to begin.”

She also said she expected foreclosures to be a prominent issue raised for the clinic, considering the high rate of foreclosures in southeast Queens.

The first clinic date was scheduled for Sept. 1 at Sanders’ district office at 142-01 Rockaway Blvd. Future clinics will be held on the first Thursday of every month. Sanders said he hoped the clinic could continue and possibly grow.

“Depending on the response we get from vets seeking assistance, we may expand the program in the future so that we can help even more people,” he said.

Reach reporter Patrick Donachie by e-mail at pdonachie@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4573.

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