In order to address the legal issues facing homeless veterans struggling to rebuild their lives, attorneys from Merck and Lowenstein Sandler announced they will be donating their services to provide pro bono legal aid to residents of the largest transitional housing program in New Jersey. At Community Hope’s Hope for Veterans® Program, 95 former service men and women receive shelter and support in overcoming homelessness.
“While our program helps veterans in everything from accessing healthcare to finding jobs, legal assistance was the missing link,” said J. Michael Armstrong, Community Hope Chief Executive Officer. “We knew it was integral to helping our veterans succeed, but we did not have the expertise. We had been trying to fill this void for the past seven years when Merck offered the volunteer services of their attorneys."
Merck created a partnership with Lowenstein Sandler, the Lowenstein Center for the Public Interest, and Legal Services of Northwest Jersey (LSNWJ) to form the Veterans Justice Initiative. Veterans’ cases are assigned to Merck or Lowenstein Sandler volunteer attorneys or an LSNWJ staff attorney, based on the legal issue. In addition to pro bono legal services, Merck provided Community Hope and LSNWJ with grant funding to establish the Initiative.
Armstrong explained that without a permanent address, legal notices were not received and veterans are therefore unaware of many of the outstanding legal matters until they attempt to put their lives back together in our program. He said that many veterans are in need of legal assistance to reinstate their driving privileges; appeal disability claims; resolve credit issues that can deter them from getting jobs and permanent housing or other legal matters.
Speaking at the recent launch as September 11th commemorations were underway throughout the community, Bruce Kuhlik, Merck Executive Vice President and General Counsel, said his company's "pro bono programs are focused on helping those without access to legal advice get equal justice under the law. We are proud to be giving back to those who have sacrificed so much for our country.”
Gary M. Wingens, Chairman and CEO of Lowenstein Sandler said, “The Justice Initiative will really help our veterans rejoin society.” He explained that “Community Hope has a special meaning to us”, noting that the Firm’s founding partner Richard Sandler had provided pro bono services to help Community Hope establish the Hope for Veterans® Program in 2004. He also acknowledged the long-time service of David Wissert, Member of the Firm, on the Community Hope Board of Directors.
Diane K. Smith, LSNWJ Executive Director, reported that 36 veterans from the Hope for Veterans® Program have received legal assistance in the pre-launch development of the Veterans Justice Initiative with positive results. She said the rewards extend both ways, “It’s very fulfilling.”
Founded in 1985, Community Hope was created by mental health professionals and family members of young adults with mental illness in 1985 with the opening of a single residence serving five individuals. Today, the organization’s residential programs serve 300 individuals in recovery from mental illness and co-occurring substance abuse daily.
In 2004, Community Hope opened the largest program in New Jersey and the Tri-State area for homeless veterans. The Hope for Veterans® Transitional Housing Program serves 95 homeless veterans a day and has helped more than 430 veterans rebuild their lives in the past six years.