Empowering veterans by explaining expungement

U.S. Army veteran Sam M. desperately wanted to attend his grandmother’s funeral. He did, but immediately following the viewing he was escorted back to his jail cell. He was scared and alone. In 1996, Sam had been convicted of a drug charge and sentenced to jail.

“I was devastated and it was that moment that I knew I had to change my life around,” adds Sam.

But Sam’s struggles mounted once he got home. Without a job, he faced homelessness. He heard about HVAF and called for help. Many veterans come to HVAF looking for a fresh start and those who enter the transitional housing program are not only provided a roof over their head but also have the opportunity to receive free legal services offered by the Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic.

Sam at HVAF
Sam had one felony drug conviction and three misdemeanor convictions on his record. These convictions were twenty years ago, but they still were impacting his ability to get a job now.

"The legal significance of this is that an Indiana employer cannot use an expunged arrest or conviction as the basis of adverse employment decisions (e.g. refusal to interview, offer job, hire). The expungement law gives a second chance to a person who has been a law-abiding citizen for a long time since they got into trouble." says Brian Dunkel, Director of Legal Services, Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic.

Each month, there are anywhere from 20 to 30 veterans seeking legal services at HVAF, which is voluntary. Veterans, like Sam, meet with an attorney who go through their criminal records to determine whether they can be expunged by filing a petition in court.

In Sam’s case, the National Veteran Services Fund assisted by paying $536 in unpaid court costs and fines. The law requires a petitioner to make sure all of those are paid before an expungement is granted. The Court has granted Sam’s expungement petition and he can now search for work knowing that his past convictions cannot be used against him by a prospective employer.

“It gave me a peace of mind because I was wondering what was going to happen next and now I have a fresh start,” adds Sam. “I can apply for a job confidently knowing that I can leave my past behind but also remember the bad choices that got me here so that I don’t repeat them,” says Sam. “HVAF and its partners have made a lasting impact on my life.”

Sam meets weekly with a case manager at HVAF and feels a sense of gratitude for the attorney who helped him forge a new path. His immediate goals include finding a meaningful job and to move into his own apartment.

Last year 199 veterans at HVAF received legal services which included getting a criminal record expunged.

According to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans (NCHV) the U.S. Army accounted for 46% of veterans living in the United States yet 56% of veterans in state prison.