Expert Opinion: A Front-line Advocate for Our Veterans. Meet Michael Taub…

Michael Taub, a 2003 graduate of the Villanova University School of Law, has served as a staff attorney with the Homeless Advocacy Project (HAP) in Philly since 2005. The PSlawNet Blog came to know Michael at that time because our offices were right down the hall from each other. He’s a great lawyer with an unwavering commitment to helping his clients, many of whom are veterans who’ve run into difficulties since leaving military service. Michael’s also an all-around good fellow, so we don’t hold it against him that he’s originally from Jersey. Or that he prefers Wilco to Son Volt. He’s just too good a person for us to quibble with those things. We digress. We asked Michael…

How would you describe your position at HAP, and how did you arrive there?   I am a staff attorney and director of our Veterans Project.  The majority of my time is spent representing homeless veterans on their claims and appeals for VA benefits.  However, I also represent non-veterans on claims/appeals for SSI and welfare benefits.  Finally, I represent clients facing eviction in L&T court, as well as homeless parents seeking custody rights of their children.  I came to my job essentially from law school, although I did a short stint at a law firm after graduation.  At the firm, I quickly came to realize that my heart was in public interest, so I left as soon as I found another job.  My position at HAP was originally funded by a fellowship, and the attorney who established the position was relocating.  I was lucky.

Tell us about your clients generally.  Are the majority veterans of the Afghanistan and Iraq operations?  And how has the recession impacted your clients?   My clients are mostly veterans of the Vietnam era.  At the time vets were returning from the war in Vietnam, the VA did not provide comprehensive mental health services, so many vets came home with severe but untreated mental illness, mostly Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  Those vets struggled to reintegrate into society, and many ended up homeless.  Unfortunately, many still are, and they make up the majority of my caseload, not to mention of the homeless veterans population in general.

Only a handful of my clients served in Iraq or Afghanistan.  It is expected that more of these veterans will end up homeless in the future, but that right now those on the brink of homelessness are still somehow afloat.  The VA has certainly stepped up its outreach and mental health services since Vietnam, so this too may contribute to the lower numbers. 

As for the recession, I am certainly seeing more clients who lost both their jobs and homes, and are now in shelter.  These clients often have job skills and a willingness to work, but with so few companies hiring, they eventually ended up in shelter or living in their cars.  With these clients, we may help them appeal denied unemployment claims or, since they are so unfamiliar with the world of public benefits, just help them apply for food stamps or medical assistance.

What are the three most challenging aspects of your job?  I really don’t look at my job as challenging.  That’s not to say it is easy, but I see it as more exciting than challenging.  When a client comes to me with a problem, my mind starts thinking of the many ways I can help.  That to me is invigorating, and I love the process.  I suppose if there is one aspect of my job that is unquestionably challenging it is dealing with bureaucracies.  In other words, once I’ve worked out the best course of action for my client, implementing that course is often trickier in practice than theory.

What aspect(s) of your job gives you the most joy?  Unquestionably my clients.  I love talking with them, meeting with them, and of course, helping them.  Despite their homelessness, they are overall a happy, funny, quirky, and intelligent group of people.  They make me cry and they make me laugh.  At end of a meeting with a client, I am always amazed at how much I have learned about MYSELF, even though they were the ones sharing their life stories. 

What advice would you offer law students who are pursuing careers in civil legal services?  The best job to have is one where your colleagues are also your friends.  I come to work every day knowing that I have the trust and support of my co-workers.  If I have a day filled with favorable outcomes, they are happy for me.  If I have a day filled with sad stories, they are always willing to help pick me up.  Much as I believe in my clients and the work I do for them, without my colleagues, I would not be able to do this work.  The environment you work in is as important as the work you do.  Always keep this in mind when interviewing for a job.

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