ICLC Spotlight: Homeless Veterans Staff Attorney, Melody Osuna

About Melody Osuna

Melody grew up in southern California and earned her law degree from Loyola Law School. She appreciated the school’s reputation for social justice, and the fact that Loyola was one of the first schools to require forty hours of pro bono work to graduate. When out of work, Melody enjoys traveling with her husband and spending time with their too many cats.

 

Why did you decide to pursue public interest law? More specifically, what about veterans law interests you?
I knew going into law school that I wanted to advocate for those who are voiceless. I wanted to learn the tools and skills needed to provide that voice for them. It’s been my passion from the very beginning and I’ve been fortunate to work in public interest law my entire career.

I began my legal career providing legal services in a women’s domestic violence shelter. When I came to ICLC, my initial role was to respond to the housing crisis and help people stay in and access affordable housing. Once I heard the Medical Legal Partnership at the VA’s Women’s Mental Health Center was being developed, I knew that this was a way to bridge my experience working on behalf of women and connecting these women to resources through the VA so they could access housing.

I have always had a connection to the military. My grandfather was a four-star general in the United States Air Force. For a family of eight in New Orleans, it was a way to provide for his family in ways that he otherwise may not have been able to. I want to ensure that all veterans have access to those opportunities.

How did you hear about Inner City Law Center? What made you want to work here?
While in law school, someone from ICLC came to my civil rights litigation class and explained their focus on woman veterans. Specifically they discussed how many women veterans experience sexual assault in the military, and were unable to report the assault because of retaliation or because their reporting officer was the offender. Often it was the case that the veteran’s response to the sexual assault was a change in behavior that did not line up with military service. A common result was that the veteran was discharged without honor and then unable to access benefits. I teared up as she was explaining the challenges that these women face. It was unfathomable to me that these women signed up for service, were sexually assaulted, then cast aside as not honorable, and then denied the very benefits that were part of the reason they signed up. It felt like our country turned their backs on these women and it was heartbreaking to hear that reality. It was really moving to me that ICLC had this program focused on helping women overcome these challenges.

You see and hear a lot of things come through your desk and office every day. A new client, a new story, a new case to solve. What keeps you motivated to do the work you do?
It is always the clients that keep me motivated. I feel that one of my strengths as an attorney is my client interviewing skills. I’ve managed to find a way to make clients feel at ease with me and tell me their story, which is often the worst thing that has happened in their life. Sometimes, I am the first person they tell their story to. I take pride in the fact that I am able to get these veterans to place their trust in me by telling me their story and allowing me to take their case. I feel fortunate that I get to work with these clients and in this area of law.

What is one of your greatest accomplishments here at ICLC?
I am extremely proud of the medical-legal partnership that I am currently doing. As I mentioned before, it takes place at the Women’s Mental Health Clinic at the Long Beach VA campus, and is focused on women veterans. I am grateful that I get to hear their stories, work on their cases, and provide them with this service. I also value the relationship with the doctors and the insight that they provide for the cases from the medical side. We are able to work together to provide better services for these veterans.

What advice do you have for aspiring ICLC attorneys?
Be ready to jump in. ICLC provides you with a lot of opportunities in many areas of law so be ready and willing to jump in and take advantage of these opportunities.