Where can I get free help with legal questions?

3 answers | Last updated: Feb 21, 2017
A fellow caregiver asked...

I have so many legal questions and I don't have the money to hire someone. My husband walked into the VA hospital for a medication change. Next thing I know is he is in a locked room on the floor with just a mattress and dried vomit all over him. He then had bruises all over his back, stomach and arms with a broken hip. He has gone downhill very fast. I care for him alone 24/7/365. Before this happened we were able to go to the store, park, etc. Now he is completely bedbound with a feeding tube and is not expected to live much longer. I can't transport him now or anything. This has caused a great hardship on me. Yet, they promise this and that and never come through. I don't know how much abuse he took because they won't tell me anything and I had made 2 appts with the head nurse on that floor and she never called or showed up. Everything is a mess. We have been married for many years and have no family. I promised to never to put him in a nursing home so that is not an option. I don't trust anyone anymore. I tried a caregiver so that I could at least get my meds and go to the store and they stole me blind. Now it is all up to me. We have lost everything over his Alzheimer's and now this.

Expert Answers

There are several places you might contact to get legal help. You may even be able to find a lawyer who will help you without being paid right away. Many lawyers take cases based on what's called a "contingency fee." That means they don't ask for any money at the beginning of the case. Instead, they wait to get paid out of the money they win for a client. If they don't win anything, the client doesn't have to pay. But it's not always easy to get a lawyer to take a contingency fee case. That's because a lawyer usually only takes a case for a contingency fee if he or she thinks there's a good chance of winning.

One place to start is your local county bar association. It's listed in the phone directory white pages. Call them and ask to speak to their referral service. They will then ask you what type of case you are calling about. Tell them it has to do with poor treatment your husband received at the VA. They will then give you the names and phone numbers of several lawyers in your area who might handle that type of case. You then have to contact those lawyers and discuss the case with them.

You can also get in touch with an association of lawyers who specialize in legal problems of the elderly. It is called the National Association of Elder Law Attorneys . They can put you in touch with lawyers near you who handle the kind of problem you and your husband have faced.

Finally, you might contact a veterans association. If your husband was active in any particular veterans group, contact them. If you don't know of any particular veterans group he was active with, you can search for a local veterans group near you by using an Internet search engine and in the search field typing in the name of the city you live in (or the large city that is nearest to where you live) and the words "veterans association."

Community Answers

A fellow caregiver answered...

If I were you, the first thing I would do is demand to see his medical records. You would really be surprised to know how much you will find out about his care. Not only did my husband suffer from poor care at the VA. I also have had a family member in a mental institution all her life. I would recommend that you find someone in your family, and hope you have one, to read it, and see if he received standard care for your area. Sadly the VA Medical Center, personnel, do not have accountablity, who would go to them if they did. The VA needs to be torn down and built up again. Your husband did indeed suffer abuse and that is common by care givers to their patients. I am always amazed that they always blame the patient, not themselves. I have worked on Acute medical floors and ICUs for eight years, in a teaching hospital. And have loads of experience as a patient, I look at it from both sides, clearly he was abused. You may even be able to read what happened to him. By law, they would have to fill out what is called a incident report, for all those bruises. They should have called you whenever they happened, get in touch with your Senator or Congress person, only way to stop this abuse, I wish you luck, get those records asap.

Carrib answered...

Also, your state medical board, after you know the names of any doctors that were in charge. If you can tolerate the loss of privacy, don't hesitate to go to the local media. A story in a small local newspaper can get picked up by bigger papers and spread. You might also want to job the ProPublica Patient Safety Community on Facebook.com. There are people there who have navigated "the system"" and are still doing so in a quest for justice. The advice on how to seek a lawyer, above, is excellent. A lawyer will be very helpful in translating this atrocity into monetary damages that you can demand from the VA. I'm very sorry to hear about this, and I hope you can find the local assistance you need to hold the VA accountable. It is also a criminal matter, if I am not mistaken. There are nonprofit organizations that can help you report the crime to law enforcement. You can search for elderabuse nonprofit (with the name of your state or city and state) to find them.