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NEWS | Nov. 19, 2015

Legal compassion

By Sgt. 1st Class Phllip Eugene 80th Training Command

A 58-year-old Vietnam veteran, who prefers to be called Wolf, fell on some hard times after a terminal cancer diagnosis caused him to lose his job as an open road truck driver. Wolf wasn't sure where to turn.

"No job, no insurance. I suddenly remembered, hey I'm a veteran."

Wolf, who served in the Navy from 1973-1977, also needed to execute his Last Will and Testament, which was complicated by the fact that he and his wife have been separated for four years.

"I wasn't really sure ... how to go about getting a divorce, or if I should even bother getting a divorce," he said.

When Wolf turned to the Veterans Administration for assistance, he came across a monthly legal assistance clinic at the Hunter Holmes McGuire VA Medical Center in Richmond, where he receives medical care.

The clinic was established by Capt. Tanya Mayes, a military justice and administrative law attorney assigned to the Army Reserve's 80th Training Command Office of the Staff Judge Advocate. She led the effort to establish the clinic after learning that a significant number of patients needed assistance. Her husband, Raymond Pacheco, who works as a nurse at the medical center, told her that stress over wills and powers of attorney - and in one case, a wrongful eviction - was negatively impacting patients' health, with several showing elevated vitals.

The active duty installations that normally provide legal assistance to veterans are often far away from VA hospitals. The Army Reserve provides more than 90 percent of the Army's Staff Judge Advocate unit capability, and in this case, Mayes' office was only six minutes from the medical center. Gaining permission to support the medical center entailed a tedious authorization process. After more than a year's worth of research and inquiry, she got what she needed. Since July 2014, Mayes' team from the 80th TC OSJA, has been providing legal assistance to qualifying veterans and active duty Wounded Warriors.

That number now exceeds 100.

Medical center staff routinely call Mayes when they admit patients with traumatic brain injuries or polytrauma issues. After assessing their legal needs at their bedsides, she then provides the necessary assistance.

"Oftentimes we'll get someone from active duty who doesn't have a power of attorney - or they executed one before they deployed and it expired," said Robin Davidson, a social work case manager with the Polytrauma unit. "The same goes for patients needing wills and estate planning..., their wishes are...put in writing and carried forward."

According to Davidson, the service Mayes and her team provides help individuals who otherwise would not receive the legal benefits they're entitled to.
Wolf agrees.

"It feels like there's some light at the end of the tunnel," Wolf said, after his initial consult with Mayes. "Now I'm not out there trying to accomplish something I know nothing about."

"Almost like a friend helping you out," he added.

Joel Anglehart, a former Army sergeant who served four years as an imagery analyst, said there's a comfort level that comes with interacting with someone in uniform.

"Me being prior service and her being in uniform ...we just appreciate each other more than a civilian could," Angelhart said. "On the civilian side, it's like dealing with a lawyer... and no one wants to deal with a lawyer."

Wolf said, he got more information from Mayes after one hour than he got from a civilian lawyer he retained after a motorcycle accident. 

"I primarily talked to the guy's secretary," he said. "For months I never really knew what was going on."

Carl Barnes, a former sergeant who served seven years in the Army Signal Corps, said Mayes was courteous and friendly, while she explained the solution to his problems in laymen's terms.

"Then she went back and asked me questions to see what I remembered," Barnes said.

According to Mayes, the reward is in the work.

"From the young wounded warriors striving to return to service, to the old WWII veteran that still has his military photo above his nursing home bed, each and every one touches us in a different way and reminds me just why I get up every morning and put this uniform on." Mayes said.

*Editor's note: Wolf (perhaps understandably so) prefers not to go by his given name - Michael Jackson.