Legal Aid helps specific vulnerable populations through special legal work and advocacy efforts. Click below to learn more.
You Have The Right to an Interpreter
You have the right to an interpreter in your native language if you have Limited English Proficiency, which means that you are not fluent in English. Many agencies and organizations are required to provide Limited English Proficient individuals with interpreters.
For a list of agencies that must provide interpreters, instructions on how to request an interpreter, and what you can do if you are denied an interpreter, click on the link below for a brochure written in many languages: You Have The Right to an Interpreter
Tax Help for H2A Workers
Farmers may apply with the U.S. government to hire workers from other countries on temporary work visas called H2A visas. Not all work visas are H2A visas. If you are not sure what kind of visa you have, check your passport or other immigration documents.
H2A workers with questions about taxes or getting an ITIN for a dependent should call The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland. Legal Aid has a Low Income Taxpayer Clinic (LITC) that may be able to help. Please call Legal Aid at 1.888.817.3777.
More information is available in this bilingual brochure published by Legal Aid: Tax Help for H2A Workers / Ayuda con los Impuestos para Trabajadores/as H2A
Legal Help for Immigrant Victims of Crime
If you are an immigrant and have been a victim of crime, Legal Aid may be able to assist you with asserting your rights under immigration laws. This brochure outlines U-Visas for victims of Crime, Special Immigrant Juvenile Status, and T-Visas for human trafficking. This brochure also discusses how immigrants can assert their rights under the Violence Against Women Act.
More information is available in multiple languages in this brochure published by Legal Aid: Legal Help for Immigrant Victims of Crime
A Spanish version of this brochure is available by clicking here: Spanish Version – Legal Help for Immigrant Victims of Crime
Legal Assistance for Immigrants
This brochure outlines what Legal Aid can do for Immigrants in Northeast Ohio. Legal Aid can assist many immigrants to the U.S., not just citizens or permanent residents, and works on cases such as detainee and deportation, and naturalization and citizenship. This brochure explains what Legal Aid can assist immigrants and their families with.
More information is available in multiple languages in this brochure published by Legal Aid: Legal Assistance for Immigrants
Notice to Immigration Detainees in Northeast Ohio
Legal Aid may be able to help you with your immigration situation if you cannot afford an attorney. This brochure outlines the rights immigration detainees have, including the right to speak with an attorney about their cases, the right to request release from custody on bond, the right to contact their country’s Consulate or Embassy, and the right to contact family members. Also included are important contact numbers that may help in resolving your immigration issue.
This brochure is available in both English and Spanish at: Notice for Immigration Detainees in Northeast Ohio/ Aviso a los Detenidos de Inmigración en el Nordeste de Ohio.
Language Access for Parents
The Cleveland Metropolitan School District has agreed to provide interpretation and translation services to students and parents with material related to schooling. This flyer explains what services the Cleveland School district has agreed to provide.
This flyer is available in both English and Spanish at: Language Access for Parents/Acceso lingüístico para los padres.
Domestic Violence: What Is It? What Can You Do About It?
Are you the victim of domestic abuse or violence? This brochure describes what domestic violence is, provides the numbers of local and national domestic violence hotlines, and outlines steps to take if you are a victim of abuse. It explains the importance of a Criminal Temporary Protection Order (TPO) and Civil Protection Order (CPO), the differences between the two, and how to file for each. The brochure also describes how to press for criminal charges and what to do if charges are filed and the abuser is convicted.
More information is available in this brochure published by Legal Aid: Domestic Violence: What Is It? What Can You Do About It?
This brochure is also available in Spanish at: Violencia Doméstica: ¿Qué es? ¿Qué puede hacer usted acerca de esto?
How Can I Request a “Reasonable Modification” through the Americans with Disabilities Act?
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities. It also requires that people with disabilities have equal access to state and local government programs and services. When necessary, state and local governments must make “reasonable modifications” to programs and services and services to make them accessible for people with disabilities.
Examples of Reasonable Modifications:
- Applications for public housing often require completing multiple forms. Under the ADA, the public housing authority must provide additional assistance to applicants with intellectual disabilities as they complete the forms. If a person with low vision cannot read the forms, the public housing authority may print their forms in a larger font or read them out loud to the person.
- Public services are required to allow a person who uses a service animal to bring their animal into the building even if it has a ‘no pets’ policy.
- A public pool may have to make an exception to its no food policy so that a person with diabetes, who needs to eat frequency, can bring in food.
How Do I Ask For a “Reasonable Modification” If I Need One?
To receive a reasonable modification from a state or local government program, you must ask for it. If your need is obvious, your request should be simple. For example, if you are blind and you need help locating materials in a library, ask the librarian for help and they should help you.
But if your need is less obvious, you may have to take additional steps. Here are some tips on how to request a reasonable modification:
- Make the request in writing, date it, and keep a copy. The government program or service may have special forms that you can use to do this, but a form is not required. If you make your request orally, follow it up with a letter and keep a copy. Your request usually should go to a person called the “ADA Coordinator.”
- Your request can come from someone else, like a family member or service provider.
- You may need to get verification of your disability. The ADA allows the agency to ask you for limited medical information to support your request. For example, if you have a learning disability and need help filing for state benefits, you may need to provide a simple letter from your healthcare provider along with your written request for a reasonable modification.
- Does the agency have to provide the modification you ask for? No – the agency only must provide modifications that are “reasonable and effective” and give meaningful access to the program or service.
What Do I do if my Request for a Reasonable Modification is Denied?
If your request for modification is denied, you can appeal the denial by following the government office’s internal procedures. You can also file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice at https://www.ada.gov/filing_complaint.htm. You must file the complaint within 180 days of the discrimination.
More information regarding the ADA can be found at www.ada.gov.
What is an ABLE account?
What is an “ABLE” account?
Congress passed the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act in 2014. The new law allowed 42 states, including Ohio, to create special savings and investment accounts for individuals with disabilities. In Ohio, these special accounts are called STABLE Accounts.
STABLE Accounts offer the opportunity to save money and build wealth. They do not affect eligibility for needs-based public benefits programs like SSI, Medicaid, and SNAP. Anyone can contribute money to a STABLE account. The maximum total amount that can be deposited each year is $15,000.
If you decide to invest, you can choose among several options. If you use the money you make from investments on qualified expenses, then the investment money you earned is tax-free. If you do not want to invest, you can use the STABLE account as a savings account.
Who is eligible for a STABLE account?
The basic requirements to open a STABLE Account in Ohio are:
• You must have developed disabilities before age 26, and
• Have at least $50.00 to put in the account
Disability status may be shown with either SSI or SSDI benefit statements, or a certification letter from your doctor.
Even if you’re not eligible now, proposed changes to the law may make you eligible in the future. For example, a bill before Congress would raise the age before which you must have developed your disability from 26 to 46.1 This bill would drastically increase the number of Americans eligible.
Visit www.stableaccount.com and click “Eligibility Quiz” to find out if you or a loved one qualifies to start saving with STABLE.
What are the benefits of a STABLE account?
You can easily use your STABLE account to pay for certain programs and items. You can use the money in your account to fund education,
transportation, basic living expenses, job training, legal fees, assistive technology, and more!
How does a person sign up?
Go to www.stableaccount.com to get started!
This article was written by Bridget Sciscento and appeared in The Alert: Volume 35, Issue 3.
What do I do if my claim is denied?
When you are not satisfied with the decision that the local VA office made on your claim, you may request an appeal. When you request an appeal, you are asking the Board of Veterans’ Appeals to review the decision because you do not agree with it. You can appeal for any reason.
- The appeals process click here.
- Forms for appealing a claim click here.
Which veteran benefits should I apply for?
There are many different types of benefits available to veterans. Are you unsure of which benefits you may be able to apply for? The links below will help you figure it out:
- If your discharge was less than fully Honorable please click here.
- For an explanation of the difference between Department of Defense, Veterans Affairs, and Social Security Benefits click here.
- For a guide to help you find out which benefits you may be able to apply for click here.
- A screening guide that helps veterans find out which benefits they may be able to apply for is available here. http://statesidelegal.org/va-benefits-quick-screening-guide. This guide is not meant to give legal advice and is only a tool to help you determine which benefits you may qualify for. Since the information that you will receive is based on your answers, make sure to read the questions carefully and to answer accurately.
- VA benefits…compensation or pension? click here.
- Once you figure out that you may apply for VA benefits, you have to determine which VA benefits you qualify for: service-connected disability compensation (compensation) or non-service-connected disability pension (pension). Both types of benefits are based on disability, but there are several differences between compensation and pension.PensionCompensation
Need-based program Not based on need or income To be eligible must have wartime service, low income, and total and permanent disability Do not need to have total disability, low income, or wartime service Do not need to connect disabilities to the time of military service Need to connect disability to the time of military service Veterans aged 65 years and older are presumed to be permanently and totally disabled No presumption of disability for veterans aged 65 years and older
A more detailed explanation of the differences between VA compensation and VA pension, including the requirements for each is available here.
- If you meet the requirements for VA pension benefits click here.
- Click here for more information on VA pension and to download the form you need to fill out to apply
- If you meet the requirements for VA compensation benefits click here.
What are the proposed changes to U.S. Immigration rules?
Last October, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security proposed updates to its “Public Charge Rule.” The new version of the rule could scare eligible immigrants away from valuable public benefits that could improve their health and increase their financial stability.
The Public Charge Rule allows immigration officials to deny a person’s application to enter the U.S. or stay in the country permanently if it is determined the applicant is likely to be a “Public Charge.” A Public Charge is loosely defined as a person who depends primarily on the government for survival. For example, someone who relies on cash assistance for income may be considered a Public Charge. No single factor determines whether someone is a Public Charge. Officials can consider age, health, financial status, and whether an applicant has received certain government benefits in the past when making the determination.
The proposed changes to the Public Charge Rule would give immigration officials a wider range of public benefits programs to consider when deciding if someone is likely to be a Public Charge. For example, benefits programs like SNAP (food stamps), Medicaid, and Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers would now be considered when they were not considered before. This would likely increase the number of people who are denied immigration status under the Public Charge Rule.
The new rule has not yet been approved, but it has already caused fear and confusion among immigrant communities. Media outlets have reported that immigrants are terminating their benefits out of fear of being labeled a Public Charge if they apply to change their immigration status in the future. Without benefits, it will be harder for families to get the food and healthcare that they need. Legal Aid is concerned about these developments, and will pay close attention to the effect this rule would have on our clients who are immigrants and their families.
This article was written by Russell Hauser and appeared in The Alert: Volume 35, Issue 2.
Rights and Resources for People who have a Guardian
A ward has the right to be treated with dignity and respect, and other important rights, including:
- To speak privately with an attorney, ombudsman or other advocate
- To have an interpreter if the person does not speak English or is deaf or hearing impaired. The ward cannot be charged fees for these services
- To have witnesses appear in Court and speak on behalf of the ward
- To privacy. This includes the right to privacy of the body and the right to private, uncensored communication with others by mail, telephone and personal visits.
- To exercise control over all aspects of life that the Court has not delegated to the guardian
- To appropriate services suited to person needs and conditions, including mental health services
- To have the guardian consider personal desires, preferences and opinions
- To safe, sanitary and humane living conditions within the least restrictive environment that meets a person’s needs
- To equal treatment under the law, regardless of race, religion, creed, sex, age, marital status, sexual orientation, or political affiliations
- To have explanations of medical procedures or treatment
- To have personal information kept confidential
- To review records, including medical, financial and treatment records
- To procreate, or consent or object to sterilization
- To drive, if legally able
- To vote, if legally able
Helpful organizations and websites:
For more information about guardianships, see the Ohio Guardianship Guide at www.ohioattorneygeneral.gov/files/publications. Helpful forms and other information may also be found at Disability Rights Ohio, www.disabilityrightsohio.org. Persons in need of help with a guardianship issue can contact Disability Rights Ohio at 614-466-7264 or 1-800-282-9181 (toll-free in Ohio only) and TTY: 614-728-2553 or 1-800-858-3542 (toll-free in Ohio only).
Information about alternatives to guardianships can be found at Pro Seniors at www.proseniors.org. Pro Seniors’ Legal Hotline for Older Ohioans provides free legal information to all residents of Ohio age 60 or older. They can be contacted at 800.488.6070 and TDD 513.345-4160.
To apply for help from Legal Aid with a guardianship related problem or other civil legal matter, please call intake at 1-888-817-3777 or visit a neighborhood Brief Advice Clinic (see schedule at www.lasclev.org).
Are You Familiar With the Optional Private Record Update Service?
Ohio law provides the opportunity for some people who were convicted of a crime to seal their record. Sealing a record means information about the conviction is removed from public databases and cannot generally be viewed by landlords or employers in most circumstances.
Some employers and landlords get their background checks directly from government agencies, but most use private companies. Some private background check companies could take up to a year to remove your record from their database. During the delay, your record could be made available to potential employers, landlords, or others who purchase a private background check on you.
In the most recent Ohio budget bill, new laws were passed that created a new service to address this issue. Ohio has contracted with a company that will tell private background check companies to promptly remove your sealed records from their private databases. This service does not affect how your record is treated by government agencies; it only affects private background information.
How the Process Works
When you file the application to seal your record at the clerk of court, you should be given the option to pay an additional $45 for this service. The extra $45 fee for this service is separate from the $50 filing fee and is payable to the clerk when you apply to seal your records. A Poverty Affidavit cannot be used to waive the extra $45 fee. When you file to seal your records, you must either pay the extra $45 fee or opt out of the service.
If your request to seal a record is granted and you have paid the extra $45, then the court will notify the Law Firm of Higbee & Associates who will instruct private background check companies to promptly remove your sealed record from all future background check reports. If your request to seal a record is denied, then the extra $45 fee for this service is returned to you by the court.
Things to Be Aware of
- This service will not affect background checks ordered from government agencies.
- This service can more quickly remove your sealed record from private databases reducing the chance that a sealed record will get reported to a prospective landlord or employer.
- Even if you pay for this service, the courts will not guarantee that every record of your case will be completely removed from all private background check companies.
If you want to apply to seal a misdemeanor or juvenile record in Cuyahoga County, or any criminal record in Ashtabula, Geauga, Lake, or Lorain Counties, call 1-888-817-3777 to apply for help from Legal Aid. If you want to apply to seal a felony in Cuyahoga County, contact the Public Defender at 216-443-7223.
This article was written by Gerry Meader and appeared in The Alert: Volume 34, Issue 2.
Can I get my criminal record sealed?
Many Ohioans struggle to find a job or housing after being convicted of a crime. Ohio’s law makers saw the difficulties faced by people with criminal records and passed a law (SB 66) that allows more people to have their criminal records sealed. SB 66 aims to reduce recidivism and prison time for low-level, non-violent, non-sex offenders, who make up the fastest growing portion of the state’s prison population due to the drug epidemic.
When you seal an adult criminal record in Ohio, the record is not erased. Instead, the criminal record is hidden from the public and most employers. Some employers, such as those that hire nurses, nursing assistants, or child care providers, will still be able to see the record after it is sealed. It will always be available to judges and police officers.
The following information describes generally who in Ohio is eligible to apply to have a criminal record sealed. Note, this information does NOT apply to juvenile criminal records. Click here for information about sealing juvenile records.
In Ohio as of 10/2018, to be eligible to seal a criminal record, you must meet one of two sets of criteria. If you meet the requirements listed under either Criteria A or Criteria B below, you may qualify to seal your criminal record.
Criteria A: First, you may be eligible if you have:
- No more than five 4th or 5th degree felony
- Unlimited number of misdemeanors, AND
- No 1st, 2nd, or 3rd degree felony convictions, AND
- No felony sex offense convictions, AND
- No violent crime convictions (felony or misdemeanor).
If you meet this criteria, you may be able to seal all of your convictions, including felonies and misdemeanors. If you do not qualify under Criteria A, you may still be eligible to seal your records if you satisfy the following:
Criteria B: You may be eligible if you have NO MORE THAN:
- Two misdemeanor convictions; OR
- One misdemeanor and one felony conviction
ALL convictions are considered, regardless of how long ago they happened or where they occurred (including
other state and federal courts).
Even if you are eligible to seal your records, some convictions can never be sealed, including traffic and OVI/DUI offenses, serious crimes of violence, most crimes involving children, most sex crimes, and 1st or 2nd degree felonies. Also, the prosecutor may object to the request to seal criminal records. It is up to the court to decide whether to allow a record to be sealed. You can usually seal records of “minor misdemeanor” convictions, dismissed cases, “no bills” and “not guilty” verdicts even if you fail both tests listed above.
The link above to the self help sealing record page, where you can enter your personal information, will help you determine whether or not your offense is or is not eligible to be sealed.
Sealing a criminal record in Ohio is a “privilege,” not a “right.” This means a judge must review each person’s application to seal a record and decide first if the person is eligible, and then whether or not to grant the sealing.
You can read more about options for people with a criminal record at http://lasclev.org/category/faqs/work-faqs/
How will the public housing authority’s smoking bans affect me?
By July 30, 2018, public housing providers will all be required to implement smoke-free policies in residential buildings. The smoke-free policies prohibit residents from smoking in their units or outside of designated smoking areas. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (“HUD”) supports these bans in the interest of residents’ health and minimizing repair costs.
Public housing authorities (PHAs) in Cuyahoga, Ashtabula, Geauga, Lake and Lorain counties have begun to implement smoking bans based on HUD’s proposed “Smoke-Free Public Housing” rule from November 2015. Some PHAs may implement their smoke-free policies sooner than the July 30, 2018 requirement.
The smoking bans include all lit tobacco products, including cigarettes, cigars, and pipes. Smoking will be prohibited in all public housing residential units, common areas, offices and the first 25 feet from the outside of the building. Some housing providers may provide a Designated Smoking Area (DSA). However, this is not required and the housing providers may choose to make the entire property smoke-free. All leases must include the smoking policy by July 30, 2018.
If a resident has a disability, a reasonable accommodation may be made to make it easier for the resident to access the area where smoking is allowed (i.e., the DSA or 25 feet from the building). However, the reasonable accommodation cannot allow a resident to smoke in the residential unit.
The goal of the smoke-free policy is to provide residents and staff with a healthier and safer environment. PHAs are encouraged to partner with their local and state health departments and tobacco control organizations to help residents who want to quit.
Each PHA has discretion on how to enforce its smoke-free policy. HUD recommends gradually increasing the consequences for violations, starting with verbal warnings, then a written warning, followed by a final notice. After repeated violations, enforcement of smoke-free policies could result in evictions for tenants that do not adhere to the policy or continue to smoke in their unit.
PHAs should be providing notice to all tenants in advance of this change to policy and to lease agreements. Residents should speak with their property manager about any questions or concerns in advance.
This article was written by Abigail Staudt and appeared in The Alert: Volume 34, Issue 1. Click here to read a full PDF of this issue!
 Instituting Smoke-Free Public Housing, 80 Fed. Reg. 71,762 (Nov. 17, 2015)
Can a Certificate of Qualification for Employment help me?
A CQE or “Certificate of Qualification for Employment” can help someone with a criminal record by removing automatic or mandatory restrictions on the types of jobs or professional licenses they can have. Persons with a criminal record often experience these automatic or mandatory restrictions (also known as collateral sanctions/consequences) when they are denied a job or a professional license due to their criminal record. A CQE does not guarantee a job or license. A CQE does not seal or erase the criminal record, so employers can still see a person’s conviction history. A CQE requires employers and state licensing boards to consider each applicant’s record individually instead of denying an applicant based on a blanket restriction. A CQE also benefits employers who hire someone with a CQE by providing immunity from negligent-hiring lawsuits if the person with the CQE re-offends.
Applicants for a CQE must meet the following eligibility requirements:
- If convicted of a misdemeanor, it must be more than 6 months since the individual has been released from all court supervision, including paying all fines and fees.
- If convicted of a felony, it must be more than 1 year since the individual has been released from all court supervision, including paying all fines and fees.
There are no limits on the number or type of convictions a person can have in order to be eligible, but some limitations exist for people convicted of violent crimes. Also, CQEs are not available for federal or out-of-state convictions or collateral sanctions.
Recent changes to Ohio law have made the process of applying for a CQE slightly easier. Now applicants only need to provide a general statement about how the CQE will assist them. Also, out-of-state residents with an Ohio criminal record can apply for a CQE in any Ohio county where they have a conviction. Current Ohio residents should still apply in the county where they live, even if their conviction is in a different Ohio county.
Lastly, the new law directs the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections (ODRC) to make rules allowing CQE applications sooner than 6 months for misdemeanors and 1 year for felonies. ODRC must also keep track of CQEs granted and revoked, as well as employers where
people with CQEs have been hired.
In order to apply for a CQE a person can complete an application online at www.drccqe.com or call Legal Aid at 1.888.817.3777 to apply for help.
This article was written by Andrew Torres and appeared in The Alert: Volume 34, Issue 1. Click here to read a full PDF of this issue!
The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland receives General Revenue Fund support for veterans
Additional funding in FY 2020-21 budget will serve veterans in need of legal services
CLEVELAND, OH (Nov. 5, 2019) — Thanks to the enhanced General Revenue Fund funding for legal aid in Ohio’s FY 2020-21 budget, The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland will expand its support of veterans in need of crucial legal services.
“I was happy to partner with Sen. Schuring on this important amendment to benefit our veterans,” said Sen. John Eklund (R-Munson Township). “Ohio’s veterans have sacrificed a great deal in service to our country, and it’s our duty to ensure they get the legal help they need.”
The additional $500,000 in statewide funding for Ohio’s legal aids is to be used solely to provide legal services for veterans and will be distributed by the Ohio Access to Justice Foundation.
“We commend the General Assembly for their commitment to serving veterans who are struggling to makes ends meet,” said Angie Lloyd, executive director, Ohio Access to Justice Foundation.
Ohio’s veterans experience legal challenges related to securing and maintaining VA benefits, accessing healthcare and medical benefits, and resolving family, housing, and consumer issues, among others. Ohio’s legal aid organizations help veterans overcome these challenges and get back on the path to stable housing, health, and employment.
Although Ohio’s legal aids served 4,402 veterans in 2018, the need for legal services far exceeds the available resources. In 2017, the federal Legal Services Corporation found that nationally, 71 percent of households with veterans or other military personnel have experienced a civil legal problem in the past year.
For example, “Kevin” (name changed to protect client privacy) is a U.S. veteran who had been receiving a monthly veteran’s benefit for many years. When he turned 65 and started receiving Social Security, he reported this to the Veteran’s Affairs (VA) office, so the monthly amount would be reduced in accordance with the new income. But no change was made, and Kevin’s veteran’s benefits continued in the same amount. Then one day, Kevin received a notice that he owed the VA over $4,000 in return for over-payments.
Kevin knew what to do. He called The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland, and an attorney helped him by submitting a waiver request to the VA’s debt management committee on wages and compromises. The VA approved the request to waive the over-payment, and now pays Kevin the full amount he is entitled to each month.
Cleveland Legal Aid helps veterans and their families overcome these challenges and get back on the path to stable housing, health, and employment. In 2018, 646 of Legal Aid’s cases involved U.S. Veterans or active duty military members – impacting a total of 1,227 people.
New Report on LBGTQ Poverty Illuminates Challenges Faced by Millions of Americans
A new report on LGBTQ poverty in the United States has just been released by the Williams Institute on Sexual Orientation Law and Public Policy at University of California Los Angeles.
The report builds on previous studies of poverty in the LGBTQ community by expanding its scope to include transgender people and people who are LGTBQ, but not living in couples. The report draws on data from 35 states to identify state-level differences in LBGTQ poverty rates and also compares rural vs. urban communities.
Below are some of the study’s key findings:
- Among LGBT people, poverty rates differ by sexual orientation and gender identity:
- Cisgender gay men: 12.1%
- Cisgender lesbian women: 17.9%
- Cisgender bisexual men: 19.5%
- Cisgender bisexual women: 29.4%
- Transgender people: 29.4%
- Cisgender straight men (13.4%) and gay men have similar rates of poverty and their poverty rates are lower than every other group.
- Cisgender lesbian women have similar rates of poverty as cisgender straight women (17.8%). However, women of all sexual orientations have significantly higher rates of poverty than cisgender straight men and gay men.
- LGBT people of most races and ethnicities show higher rates of poverty than their cisgender straight counterparts.
- One in five (21%) LGBT people in urban areas live in poverty, and one in four (26.1%) in rural areas are poor, compared to about 16% of cisgender straight people in both areas.
Read the full report here: LGBTQ Poverty in the United States
Help with the application process
Veterans can begin an application at their Regional Office or their County Veteran Service Commission. Below is the contact information for the Cleveland Regional Office and for the Veterans Service Commissions for Ashtabula, Cuyahoga, Geauga, Lake, and Lorain counties. We have also provided the links for the Disabled American Veterans website, the Veterans of Foreign Wars website, and the VA’s Inquiry Routing and Information System (IRIS).
- Cleveland Regional Benefit Office
- If you fill out a hard copy claim form, you can mail that form to the regional office. You can also visit your local regional office and turn in your application for processing. While there, you can appoint an accredited Veterans Service Officer to help you prepare and submit your claim. You can find an accredited Veteran Service Officer using eBenefits.Address: A.J. Celebrezze Federal Building, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, 1240 East Ninth Street, Cleveland, Ohio 44199Phone: (800) 827-1000/(216) 522-3507
- Disabled American Veteran click here.
- Veterans of Foreign Wars click here.
- Veterans service Commissions Chart (by county) click here.
County Address Phone # Fax # Website Ashtabula 1212 Lake Ave. Ashtabula, Oh 44004 (440) 964-8324 (440) 964-3582 firstname.lastname@example.org Visit Site Cuyahoga 1849 Prospect Ave., Ground Floor Cleveland, Oh 44115 (216) 698-2600 / 1-866-915-8387 (216) 698-2650 email@example.com Visit Site Geauga 470 Center St., Building #8-A Chardon, Oh 44024 (440) 279-1860 (440) 285-4489 firstname.lastname@example.org Visit Site Lake 105 Main Street Painesville, Oh 44077 440) 350-2567 / 2904 OR (800) 899-5253, Ext. 2904 (440) 350-5980 email@example.com Visit Site Lorain 42495 N. Ridge Rd. Elyria, Oh 44035 (440) 284-4625 (440) 284-4696 firstname.lastname@example.org Visit Site
- The inquiry Routing and Information System click here.
Filing your VA Disability Compensation Benefits Claim
This page provides information for veterans with service-connected disabilities who want to file a VA compensation claim. Service-connection does not mean that something had to have happened to you during a time of combat. Service-connection means that something happened to you in the service that caused or aggravated the disability that is currently bothering you. Filing a claim can be confusing and the following information and resources should help you through the claims process.
When you apply for service-connected disability benefits, you may either file a Fully Developed Claim (FDC) or a Standard Claim. You use a different form depending on which type of claim you decide to file.
For more information on Fully Developed Claims click here.
- Getting to know the claims process…click here.
- Reports and evidence click here.
- For VA compensation eligibility information with references to other helpful documents that contain specific examples for reports and evidence here.
- How long is the claims process? click here.
- An outline of the claims process with regard to what happens after a claim is filed and with how long things generally take is available here.
After you decide whether you want to file a Fully Developed Claim or a Standard Claim, you’ll have to decide whether you want to file electronically or whether you want to file a paper form that you will mail to your local regional office.
- If you want to file your claim electronically click here.
- The eBenefits portal is a great resource if you are comfortable with using a computer. The website provides helpful resources for filing your claim and you can also file your claim electronically through the eBenefits portal. click here to begin your application.
- If you want to file a paper application click here.
How do I name a Durable Power of Attorney?
A durable power of attorney can be one of the most helpful estate planning tools a person uses, but it can also be very risky. A durable POA gives a person (who is called an “attorney in fact”) legal authority to act for another person in a variety of matters, including banking, benefits, housing, taxes, real estate, litigation, and more. (The durable POA is different from a Health Care Power of Attorney, which is the form used to appoint a person to make decisions about health care.)
A power of attorney can be limited or very broad in scope depending on what is needed. A properly written and executed durable POA can give someone a great deal of power over another person’s affairs, and should be carefully considered. Executing a power of attorney does not take away the ability of the principal — the person signing the power of attorney — to continue to conduct his own affairs.
When deciding who to name as “attorney in fact,” consider four things about potential people:
1) Trust. The person named in a POA must be trusted to do what the principal wants and needs. The “attorney in fact” must not use his authority to take advantage of the principal and cannot exceed the authority given to him.
2) Competency. The attorney in fact must be capable of handling the tasks the principal needs done. A person who must handle a complicated tax matter needs a different level of competency than someone who needs to make sure the rent is paid each month.
3) Capacity. The needs of the principal may change over time. The attorney in fact should have the time, energy, and willingness to help the principal as different situations arise.
4) Communication. The principal and the attorney in fact should be able to communicate clearly with each other. The principal needs to give directions about what she wants done under different circumstances, and the attorney in fact should be honest about what she is willing and able to do.
Ohio’s “power of attorney” form, along with tools and resources to help fill it out, can be found here. The POA form should be signed before a notary. The POA must be given to anyone or any institutions asked to rely on it, such as a bank or landlord. The POA lasts until the principal dies or says the power of attorney is no longer in effect. The POA must be recorded with the county if used for any transactions involving real property.
Older adults and people with disabilities or serious illness may apply to Legal Aid for help creating a durable power of attorney by calling 1-888-817-3777.
This article was written by Anne Sweeney and appeared in The Alert: Volume 33, Issue 1. Click here to read a full PDF of this issue!
I need an interpreter for Court, what do I do?
In Ohio courts, you have the right to an interpreter in your native language if you have Limited English Proficiency, which means that you are not fluent in English. If you are Limited English Proficient and you have not been provided with an interpreter or have been denied an interpreter in any court in the State of Ohio, you may report the problem to the Ohio Supreme Court, Language Services Program. This program is responsible for making sure that Limited English Proficient individuals have access to courts.
For information in multiple languages about how to contact the Language Services Program to report the denial of an interpreter, click here: Complaint Resolution Poster.
If you decide to file a complaint because you were not provided with an interpreter in court, you may do so on a form provided by the Ohio Supreme Court. The form is available in many languages. Click on the links below to open the form in each of the following languages:
- የቅሬታ ማቅረቢያ ቅጽ
- إستمارة شكوى
- ទរម្ង់ពាកយប ណ្តឹង
- Đơn Khiếu nại
- Lefol Woytaare
For information about what will happen after you file a complaint because a court did not provide an interpreter for you, read about the Complaint Resolution Process. Posters explaining the process are available in multiple languages. Click on the links below to read about the process in each of the following languages:
You should be contacted by someone from the Language Services Program at the Ohio Supreme Court after you have filed a complaint. If 10 days have passed and you have not heard from them, contact the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland at 1-888-817-3777 to request additional assistance.
For more information related to rights to interpreters, also see:
- Information from Legal Aid: https://lasclev.org/category/faqs/language-access-faqs/
- Information from the Ohio Supreme Court: http://www.sconet.state.oh.us/JCS/interpreterSvcs/forms/default.asp
Still have questions? Check out these links for other helpful resources from Legal Aid:
- Language Access FAQ’s: https://lasclev.org/category/faqs/language-access-faqs/
- Language Access Brochures: https://lasclev.org/category/brochures/limited-english-proficiency-brochures/
- Language Access Success Stories: https://lasclev.org/category/success-stories/get-help-success-stories/limited-english-proficiency-success-stories/
I’m a US Vet, but also in the criminal justice system – how can I find help?
Veterans involved in the criminal justice system or returning from prison can get help from the VA.
The Veteran Justice Outreach (VJO) program provides access to VA services for eligible veterans to prevent homelessness and avoid unnecessary criminalization, while helping veterans access health care to support rehabilitation and independence. Click here for more information about the VJO program.
The VA’s Health Care for Reentry Veterans (HCRV) Program provides services pre and post release from prison to help veterans identify needs and connect with resources in order to support a successful transition back to the community after leaving prison. Click here for more information about the HCRV program.
I have an administrative hearing scheduled but do not speak English. What are my rights?
Federal law states that you have the right to an interpreter in an administrative hearing if you are a person with limited English proficiency (LEP). This means that you do not speak, read, write, or understand English fluently. Additionally, LEP individuals who are not involved in the administrative hearing, but who need to be there, like a parent or guardian, also have the right to an interpreter. Your family members or children should not be used instead of a qualified interpreter from the agency/organization. LEP individuals have the right to participate in administrative hearings in the same way as someone who speaks and understands English fluently.
Examples of agencies that must provide you with an interpreter: courts; U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services; Social Security; Veterans Administration; IRS; Ohio Department of Jobs & Family Services (Unemployment Compensation & welfare office); Medicaid office; Bureau of Motor Vehicles; public housing agencies; and public and charter/community schools.
Asking for an interpreter:
- Ask an employee of the court, agency, or organization for an interpreter.
- If the person you ask says no: ask for a supervisor, customer service representative, or ombudsman (person who hears complaints).
What to do if you do not receive an interpreter:
- If you still do not receive an interpreter, you may file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ).
- You can file a complaint by either sending a letter or using DOJ’s complaint form. The form is on DOJ’s website. You can do this in either English or your first language.
- The complaint should explain when and how the agency did not give you an interpreter or how they did not speak to you in a language you can understand.
- Please keep a copy of the complaint for your records.
- The letter or form should be sent to:
- DOJ Website: http://www.justice.gov/crt/complaint/
- DOJ Phone: 1 – (888) 848-5306
- DOJ will respond to you with a letter or phone call.
This article was written by Legal Aid Senior Attorney Megan Sprecher & Volunteer Attorney Jessica Baaklini appeared in The Alert: Volume 30, Issue 3. Click here to read a full PDF of this issue!
Do you need to file papers in court but cannot afford the fees?
You might be able to reduce or avoid paying the filing fees up front with a “poverty affidavit” (or “affidavit of indigency”). Courts generally require a fee whenever a person files a new case or asks the court to do something by filing a “motion” in a pending case or files a “counterclaim” in a pending case.
But if you have a low income, you might be able to file your documents in court without the payment or with a lower payment if you first file a “poverty affidavit.” A poverty affidavit is a written, sworn statement that you have a low income and do not have enough money to pay fees.
To see a sample poverty affidavit and instructions on how to fill it out, click here.
Once you fill out the poverty affidavit, you must have your signature notarized and file the completed affidavit in the court where your case is being heard.
After you file a poverty affidavit in a case, the clerk will either not charge you any money or will charge you much less to file other documents in the same case. Even though you do not have to pay the fees up front, you may still be responsible for the fees at the end of the case.
Most Ohio courts have their own affidavit forms for you to fill out. You can request these from the clerk at your local court. Here are links to poverty affidavits forms for the courts that post the form online:
- Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas: http://coc.cuyahogacounty.us/pdf_coc/en-US/affidavit_of_indigence.pdf
- Cuyahoga County Domestic Relations Court: http://domestic.cuyahogacounty.us/pdf_domestic/en-US/Misc/Affidavit%20Waive%20Cost%20with%20Chart.pdf
- Cuyahoga County Juvenile Court: http://juvenile.cuyahogacounty.us/pdf/miscellaneous%20forms/2013-Forms/PovertyAffidavit-JuvCrt-form2013.pdf
- East Cleveland Municipal Court: http://www.eccourt.com/pdf/poverty_aff.pdf
- Ashtabula County Court of Common Pleas: http://courts.co.ashtabula.oh.us/forms/COC/PA.pdf
Some courts, for example Cleveland Municipal Court, will accept a generic poverty affidavit. You can download a blank poverty affidavit form here:
For additional information related to using a poverty affidavit to access the court system, click here to read an article from Legal Aid.
This information and the information provided on any court’s website cannot take the place of individual advice from a lawyer. Each person’s situation is different. You should contact a lawyer if you need legal representation or if you have questions about your legal rights and responsibilities.
If you need further help, and plan to visit a Legal Aid Brief Advice Clinic – click here for upcoming clinic dates. Remember to bring all the documents with you. Attorneys will need the documents in order to advise you.
My child has an IEP but I do not get regular reports. What can I do?
A child getting special education at a public or charter school has an Individualized Education Program (IEP). This IEP is written at least once a year and lists goals for the child in their areas of need. An IEP Progress Report, talking about the child’s progress on each goal, must be mailed to the child’s caregiver regularly. The child’s IEP will say how often the IEP Progress Reports must be mailed.
Legal Aid recently filed a complaint against the Cleveland Metropolitan School District because caregivers of children with IEPs were not getting IEP Progress Reports as often as they should. The Ohio Department of Education told the school district it must regularly send IEP Progress Reports to caregivers of students getting special education.
If your child has an IEP and you are not getting regular IEP Progress Reports, you should talk to your child’s teacher and/or principal. If that does not help, you may file a complaint with the Ohio Department of Education. You may get the complaint form at their website, www.education.ohio.gov, or by calling Legal Aid at 1-888-817-3777.
This article was written by Legal Aid volunteer Kolie Erokwu and appeared in The Alert: Volume 29, Issue 3. Click here to read the full issue.
Spanish-Speaking Attorneys Help Domestic Violence Survivor Feel Safe After Distressing Experience
Isabel Ramirez Blancas left her home in Mexico for a new life in the United States, where she thought her U.S. citizen husband would petition for her residency status. But instead, he gave her a false ID card and forced her to work.
Compounding her disappointment, Ms. Ramirez suffered domestic violence at home. She never reported her situation because she was afraid to go to the police. Instead, Ms. Ramirez endured her husband’s abuse until the day she came home to find he had taken his own life.
With no husband, no income to support the couple’s young son, no documented status, and little English language ability, Ms. Ramirez was emotionally distraught. Her provider at MetroHealth’s McCafferty Clinic referred her to Legal Aid, where she met a Spanish-speaking staff attorney.
“I was very happy to come across a lawyer that spoke Spanish,” Ms. Ramirez said. “It made me feel I could trust her and the organization to do good work on my behalf.”
The Legal Aid attorney found that Ms. Ramirez was eligible to self-petition for legal permanent residency under the Violence Against Women Act, and helped her begin the process.
Immigration cases often span many years, and Ms. Ramirez’s was no exception. Initially, the petition was denied in 2013 because her abuser was no longer living, but Legal Aid helped her appeal the decision. After the appeal was granted on the self-petition, Legal Aid attorney Agustin Ponce de León filed for Ms. Ramirez’s adjustment of status and work authorization.
Three years after Ms. Ramirez first filed, the government approved all her petitions, giving her lawful permanent residency and work authorization. Mr. Ponce de León personally delivered her green card to her door.
As for Ms. Ramirez, she is working on her English via a course, and she and her son are setting down roots in the only hometown her son has ever known.
U.S. Veteran Gets a Clean Slate and a Fresh Start
Sgt. Robert Adams walks through the Louis Stokes Veteran’s Administration complex with a purpose. He calls out a welcoming greeting for the veterans who are there for treatment or services. Most of the employees greet him by name, “Hey Robbie.”
They don’t know that he lived as a fugitive for 30 years — working underground in restaurants, construction and landscaping when he could find a job; hoping he wouldn’t be fired or arrested.
Sgt. Adams joined the Marines after a comfortable childhood in Bedford, with a paper route and a Catholic school education. Serving six years in San Diego and Los Angeles, he was promoted twice and left the service with an honorable discharge. With his new wife, he settled
in Los Angeles and started planning a future, taking Lamaze classes in Beverly Hills to prepare for their first child. A few years later, his wife’s cousin introduced them to a new drug, which turned out to be crack cocaine.
It seemed glamorous at first, he says, “then it took hold of me,” and everything fell apart. He was in treatment but the marriage was over and he gave up. Sgt. Adams was sleeping in parks and empty apartments. He served six months in jail for trespassing; then he was arrested again for drug possession.
He called his sister for money – instead of sending it, she moved him back to Cleveland in 1988 where the family could take care of him. When he didn’t appear in court, California issued a warrant. Although he was never convicted on the possession charge, the outstanding bench warrant would haunt him.
He couldn’t get a job because he had a warrant and he couldn’t access any veteran’s benefits because of the VA’s “fugitive felon” rule.
Sgt. Adams struggled to clean up his record, he attended expungement seminars and submitted his paperwork, but without an attorney, prosecutors would ignore his pleas.
“It was all my own fault,” he says. “I wanted to see my kids, I wanted everything back the way it was.”
He was ready to make a change, spending time volunteering at the VA, pushing wheelchairs, attending job-training classes half-heartedly, knowing he wouldn’t be hired. Looking back,
he realizes he had a team of angels at the VA who wouldn’t let him give up. Russ Schafer, a veteran’s advocate and court liaison, sent him to Legal Aid. His Legal Aid lawyers Jami
Altum-McNair and Deborah Dallmann contacted the Public Defender in California for help asking the California court to recall the warrant. The Legal Aid attorneys provided the court with character statements and a heart-rending apology from Sgt. Adams.
“She made me feel like I was invincible, like I could beat anybody,” he observed. The court recalled the warrant and as a result, Sgt. Adams can now receive veteran’s benefits. With
his can-do attitude, he was hired at the VA earning $18 an hour. He bought a car and moved into a new apartment on Lake Erie. Best of all, he was able to renew his relationship with his daughters, ages 30 and 31, and spent Christmas with them.
I feel my criminal record will limit my success in life. Has anyone else turned their life around after prison?
Damian Calvert: From Inmate to Community Leader
When a person is convicted of a crime, he may spend days, months or years in prison, but the criminal record will affect him for much longer. Formerly incarcerated individuals struggle to find jobs, housing, health care and other necessities. It’s much harder to avoid re-offending when these needs are not met. Despite the hurdles, success is possible. Damian Calvert is an inspiring example.
Damian Calvert spent 18 years in prison. As many young adults were graduating from high school, going to college or starting jobs – Calvert was facing a long road through the correction system to achieve a life free from crime. According to Calvert, “my journey of incarceration wasn’t just a physical journey it was an interior journey”¦. I had a lot of self-introspection, facing my own demons and dealing with my own issues – emotionally, spiritually and mentally.”
Despite the challenges Calvert faced during and after prison, he returned home and is creating positive change in his community. Much of Calvert’s success today is based on the groundwork he laid while still incarcerated. Calvert founded the NAACP chapter at Grafton Correctional Institution (GCI) in 2005. As part of his work with the NAACP, Calvert conducted outreach to many people outside the prison walls. Given that he could not participate in typical networking, he invited key stakeholders into the prison. Many of those people are now Calvert’s friends and coworkers in the community.
Within two days of leaving GCI, Calvert found a job. A short time later he enrolled at Cleveland State University to pursue a Masters in Non-Profit Management. Just over two years after Calvert’s release, he has his own apartment and car, and he is the Lead Organizer for Stand Up Ohio (Cleveland Region). Calvert proudly speaks about his life story: “If I cannot accept and be comfortable with myself, how can I expect others to treat me with the respect and dignity I deserve?”
This article was written by Erika Anthony of Oriana House, Inc. and appeared in The Alert: Volume 29, Issue 2. Click here to read the full issue.