When Legal Assistance of Western New York Inc. announced a fellowship opportunity for an attorney to work with local veterans in Chautauqua County, Nathaniel Koppel responded.
"If a veteran comes into our office and can't afford an attorney, we are there for them," he said. "There are obvious challenges, but it's always gratifying to spend time working on a cause that you believe in."
Koppel has been reaching out to area veterans on behalf of Equal Justice Works/AmeriCorps Veterans Legal Corps in conjunction with LawNY. A recent University of Illinois College of Law graduate, he has handled civil cases involving anything from landlord/tenant issues to consumer debt.
Additionally, he said he has seen a fair share of cases involving mortgage foreclosure, as it is a major issue across the nation.
"For a veteran, not only is it the danger of losing their home, but betrayal - the feeling of extraordinary frustration after sacrificing for our country and someone is trying to pull the rug out from under their feet," he said.
Nationwide, 40 fellows are being funded by Equal Justice Works and AmeriCorps to work on the growing number of civil legal issues facing veterans and military families.
"For so long, veterans have not gotten what they deserve," Koppel said, adding that he's seen an uptake in veteran benefits cases and has also drafted several wills for clients.
Koppel also said that medical debt is one of the leading causes of bankruptcies, a situation he is working to improve for veterans.
"That's something I can definitely help with," he said. "There's no way you can compensate for a horrific injury, but a good start is helping veterans get everything they deserve and everything the government promised them."
Todd Thomas, managing attorney at LawNY, said the project is new to the area and Koppel is one of four fellows within the program in New York. Two other fellows are based in Rochester, with another in Bath.
"The other fellows are in places where there is either a large veterans service agency, or a VA hospital," Thomas said. "Nate's been unique in that he's trying to build an infrastructure here, where there's not the same level of veteran aid. He's having some success getting the word out, and hopefully the project is going to keep growing."
For more information, visit www.lawny.org or call the Jamestown office at 664-4535.