Legal Aid Provides Hope to Air Force Veteran

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Douglas Weisman and Jennifer E. Becker, Esq. at Legal Aid's Jefferson office.

April, 2011 — Ashtabula resident Douglas Weisman is an Air Force veteran who served in the Vietnam War. Mr. Weisman encountered legal trouble after his military discharge due to undiagnosed mental health issues. The Veterans Administration (VA) eventually diagnosed Mr. Weisman’s illness, found Mr. Weisman to be “permanently and totally disabled,” and granted him pension benefits retroactive to 2006. Mr. Weisman also began receiving mental health services.

However, in 2009 the VA discovered a 1986 Florida probation warrant for Mr. Weisman and terminated his benefits. The warrant was issued after Mr. Weisman was released from prison, became homeless and tried to make his way back to his family in Ohio. This fell under the Fugitive Felon Act which, among other things, denies benefits to veterans who have violated the terms of their probation.

Mr. Weisman received a letter terminating his benefits, and a VA Medical Center nurse practitioner referred him to Legal Aid. Mr. Weisman soon faced another blow: an almost $39,000 overpayment charge for benefits already received. Not only did Mr. Weisman lack the financial resources to pay back the money, he was unable to work due to his illness and totally dependent on his monthly $985 pension check.

First, staff attorney Jennifer Becker worked with a public defender in Florida to clear Mr. Weisman’s warrant. Then, Mr. Weisman was granted a hearing with the Committee on Waivers and Compromise. The Committee considered the evidence presented by Legal Aid, deemed collection against “equity and good conscience” and waived the overpayment.

Next came the long process to secure Mr. Weisman’s pension: Ms. Becker was in almost weekly contact with the VA pension center, sending and re-sending the necessary information. During this time, she secured Mr. Weisman some food stamp assistance. With no other income, Mr. Weisman could not afford to leave the house for simple errands or activities.

Nine months after the initial termination, Mr. Weisman’s benefits have been reinstated – including retroactive benefits back to the date his warrant was cleared. He finally has the resources to leave the house and shop for books or go to the movies, which he loves. Ms. Becker credits Mr. Weisman with keeping his spirits up throughout the ordeal.

He responds, “I wouldn’t have been able to handle the waiting if I didn’t know someone was working for me. Legal Aid helped me. They gave me faith.”

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