Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma, CN enter partnership
The Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma Tahlequah office recently teamed up with the Cherokee Nation through a medical legal partnership to provide civil legal needs to those who qualify. COURTESY
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma and the Cherokee Nation have formed a medical legal partnership to offer certain civil legal help to Native American citizens in the tribe’s 14-county jurisdiction.
Michael Figgins, LASO executive director, said the partnership began after LASO approached the tribe regarding the AmeriCorps’ Partnering for Native Health Grant.
“This special program came up through AmeriCorps, and we’re part of a consortium with six other states. It’s all tribes doing medical legal partnerships, one big AmeriCorps grant and we were awarded,” he said. “When Legal Aid approached Cherokee Nation, Cherokee Nation was very responsive. We talked about it in the past, and I’m pretty sure that Cherokee Nation saw the value of having the medical legal partnership.”
Laci Klinger, managing attorney for LASO in the Tahlequah area, said the idea is to help those who are in poverty by providing legal aid to help alleviate medical needs or issues.
“The ideal behind this grant is if we can assist with some of the barriers that indigent people, people in poverty, are facing then it will help with some of the medical issues that they are facing,” she said. “It will help curb some of those benefits. The disparities that they’re facing in society that often lead to the medical issues such as housing issues or benefits issues.”
Some of the legal aid offered is end-of-life planning, estate planning, power of attorney and any type of benefit assistance such as Social Security benefits, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Medicare and Medicaid. Klinger said end-of-life planning and guardianship assistance is for seniors 60 and over, and benefits assistance is available for people of any age.
To receive services, clients “must be receiving medical services” and be “referred” by the facility from which they receive those services.
With the grant’s help, Klinger said the offered services are free.
“The biggest part with just getting it off the ground is just letting people know what we’re doing, and I think that’s the biggest obstacle that we face is just for people to understand what we’re doing,” she said. “We did a will’s clinic with (W.W.) Hastings (Hospital)…and we had about 50 seniors show up at our office one afternoon, so I know that there is a huge need. So it’s just accessing the people and letting them know that it truly is free. Oftentimes people are skeptical about that and they’re like, ‘what’s the catch?’ There is no catch. It truly is free. We truly are a nonprofit and we do not take money from people.”
Klinger said two attorneys and a paralegal visit health clinics and hospitals within Craig, Delaware, Ottawa, Cherokee, Adair, Sequoyah and Wagner counties to offer legal aid services to those who are eligible.
“The idea is for them to go out into these various communities that have Indian clinics or hospitals to meet with people,” she said. “They’re setting up clinics to take in-take, to give legal advice and to see what legal needs we can meet that are civil legal needs.”
Klinger said help for those seeking services outside the grant’s realm could be provided through LASO’s other opportunities.
“Even though this particular grant is limited to the estate planning aspects and the benefits assistance, that doesn’t mean that if we help a family with benefits assistance and we identify other legal needs that we’re not going to help with that as well,” she said. “So if we identify a family that, ‘ok, this mom might need benefits assistance but she also might need to separate from an abuser’ then we’re going to move her to a different grant and we’re going to assist her.”
Klinger said the nonprofit has been in the state for approximately 50 years, and she’s “excited” to have this opportunity to help Natives in the area.
“We haven’t had anything designated just for tribal members before and this is a specific designation just for tribal members. So it’s pretty exciting,” she said.
The LASO Tahlequah office is located at 224 S. Muskogee Ave. For more information, call 918-708-1150 or 1-888-993-2615.