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 Estate Planning Project at the Legal Services Center of Harvard Law School will use funds to help vulnerable veterans with wills, healthcare proxies, other legal needs

The Legal Services Center of Harvard Law School is pleased to announce that its Estate Planning Project, which is part of the Veterans Legal Clinic, has received a grant through the NFL-Bob Woodruff Foundation Salute to Service Partnership to support our work on behalf of low-income disabled veterans who are especially at risk because of the COVID-19 crisis. The grant will enable the Estate Planning Project to use new technology tools to provide remote representation to isolated disabled veterans who need wills, powers of attorney, and healthcare proxies, as well as legal counseling on a host of critical safety net issues.

“This generous grant will help ensure that veterans who have served our country so ably and bravely can have the peace of mind they deserve during these trying times. Access to representation can be the difference between a veteran living and dying with dignity and ensuring that the veteran’s wishes about healthcare, financial matters, property, personal items, and family concerns are honored,” says Destini Agüero, who is Director of the Estate Planning Project and whose family has a long record of military service.

“The goal of the Estate Planning Project is to ensure that low-income veterans with disabilities retain maximum control over healthcare decisions and financial matters, and this goal is even more pressing amid the COVID-19 crisis,” says Elizabeth Gwin, Associate Director of the Veterans Legal Clinic. “Our clients cannot afford private representation and lack access to technology. Meanwhile, public health guidelines about social distancing and quarantines present enormous challenges in reaching veterans in need, counseling them, reviewing legal documents with them, and executing documents with witnesses and notaries so that they have legal effect.  This timely grant from the NFL-Bob Woodruff Foundation Salute to Service Partnership will help us overcome these barriers and, in the process, help us protect the legal rights of disabled veterans.”

The veterans served by the Estate Planning Project are especially vulnerable to the virus because of their already compromised health and because they lack adequate access to care or live in institutionalized settings such as veterans’ homes and senior citizen facilities, where risks of exposure have proven to be greatly heightened. Developing estate planning documents such as wills, powers of attorney, healthcare proxies, and declaration of remains, becomes a race against time as veterans struggle with chronic or terminal illness, the threat of COVID-19, mental health diagnoses, and/or various stages of dementia.

The support of the NFL-Woodruff Salute to Service Partnership grant program is critical because it will fund the use of technology to overcome barriers to representation created by the poverty and isolation experienced by too many disabled veterans. Many of the veterans served by the Estate Planning Project lack access to the Internet, do not have the technology tools to use Zoom, or have other limitations that create communication barriers. Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, many veterans could come to the Legal Services Center (LSC) or LSC attorneys and law students could easily do outreach to meet veterans in a home, institutional, or community setting.

To address the complex challenges posed by COVID-19, grant funds will be used to temporarily provide disabled veterans with the means to communicate meaningfully with their Estate Planning Project advocacy team, such as Wi-Fi-enabled tablets, telephones with closed-captioning capabilities, and headphones specifically designed for those who are hard-of-hearing. These technologies will ensure veterans can engage with their legal advocate and receive nuanced legal counseling, can do so confidentially, and that when it comes time for the formalities of executing estate planning documents, appropriate steps can be taken to comply with the requirements of estate planning law while protecting the health of the veteran, any caregivers, and LSC’s advocacy teams.  Grant funds will also be used to pay for psychology experts who will provide remote mental health evaluations for veterans and expert reports where an expert assessment is critical to the successful representation of the client.

The grant’s support is vital not only to the important work of the Estate Planning Project, but also to the ability of disabled veterans to receive other essential advocacy from LSC.  LSC is home to six civil legal assistance clinics, including clinics focusing on housing law, low-income taxpayer issues, consumer law, and safety net benefits.  It is not uncommon for disabled veterans to have unmet legal needs across multiple legal areas.  The tools provided by this grant will help the Estate Planning Project continue to serve as a gateway for disabled veterans facing legal crises to receive representation from LSC’s other practice areas.

“The public health and economic impact of the COVID-19 crisis is creating a surge in veterans seeking civil legal assistance,” says Gwin.  “We are incredibly grateful for these funds from the NFL-Woodruff Foundation Salute to Service Partnership, because they will provide us with the resources to better serve the most vulnerable of our disabled veterans during this time of greatest need.”

About the Legal Services Center of Harvard Law School: Founded in 1979, LSC is a public interest law firm and Harvard Law School clinical teaching site located in Boston’s Jamaica Plain neighborhood. Its mission is to respond to the community’s unmet legal needs, train new generations of lawyers, and create positive change.  LSC is composed of six legal clinics: The Family Law/Domestic Violence Clinic, the Housing Law Clinic, the Predatory Lending/Consumer Protection Clinic, the Federal Tax Clinic, the Veterans Legal Clinic, and the LGBTQ+ Advocacy Clinic.  The Veterans Legal Clinic was launched at LSC in 2012 to address the unique legal problems of the veteran community. In addition to representing individual clients, the Clinic also pursues broader initiatives to improve the systems that serve the veterans community. For more information, please visit www.legalservicescenter.org.

About the Bob Woodruff Foundation: The Bob Woodruff Foundation (BWF) was founded in 2006 after reporter Bob Woodruff was hit by a roadside bomb while covering the war in Iraq. Since then, the Bob Woodruff Foundation has led an enduring call to action for people to stand up for heroes and meet the emerging and long-term needs of today’s veterans. To date, BWF has invested over $70 million to Find, Fund and Shape™ programs that have empowered impacted veterans, service members, and their family members, across the nation. For more information, please visit bobwoodrufffoundation.org or follow us on Twitter at @Stand4Heroes.

For a list and descriptions of the Bob Woodruff Foundation’s 2020 Spring Grants, please visit https://bobwoodrufffoundation.org/2020-spring-grants/.

Contact:
Destini Agüero, Director, Estate Planning Project
E-mail: daguero@law.harvard.edu
Telephone: (617) 390-2530

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