By Antoinette Balta, Esq., LLM
Andrew Alton enlisted in the United States Marine Corps upon graduating from high school. He served on an intelligence collections team after studying Russian at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, Calif. During his time in the Marine Corps, Alton deployed twice: first, in support of humanitarian relief efforts in Haiti after the devastating 2010 earthquake, and then to a combat deployment in the Sangin region of Afghanistan. Following an honorable discharge from the Marine Corps as a Sergeant in 2012, Alton returned to Southern California to continue his studies. Alton received his B.S. in Biology from Cal State Fullerton and then his Juris Doctor from the University of California, Irvine School of Law.
While in law school, Alton longed to continue his mission of service and sought out ways to give back. Alton’s search ultimately led to Veterans Legal Institute® (VLI), a nonprofit law firm that provides free and life-changing services to low-income and homeless veterans.
Alton interned at VLI throughout his law school career and was exposed to several different areas of law including housing, complex veteran benefits appeals and discharge upgrades for survivors of military sexual trauma and other disenfranchised Veterans.
Armed with a law school degree and significant legal training, Alton was offered a variety of employment options. Alton applied to his alma mater, and was awarded a post-graduate fellowship that would allow him to work for one year at VLI. Alton’s fellowship at VLI helped numerous veterans in need of legal services in Southern California. Indeed, Alton helped over 100 veterans and their families remove barriers to housing, healthcare, education and employment.
Upon completing his fellowship, Alton was so intertwined with the veteran community and provided so much value to VLI that he was offered a full-time attorney position. Alton enjoys the different challenges and legal obstacles that he encounters daily. Here is a small sampling of the type of cases that Alton resolves in a typical month. While cases vary in terms of size and scope, Alton treats each case with the same passion and urgency, recognizing that any veteran in crisis deserves a zealous advocate.
A veteran’s landlord served a legal 60-day eviction notice to an 81-year-old Air Force veteran during COVID, who had been a tenant for 12 years. Although VLI determined that the eviction notice was lawful, this veteran desperately needed more time to find new housing and relocate his belongings — the isolation and lack of resources during the pandemic was going to render the veteran homeless. Alton was able to negotiate with the landlord to obtain an extra six weeks for the veteran to locate new housing and, most importantly, celebrate the holidays in his old home.
As a direct result of Alton’s advocacy, this veteran can alleviate his fears of homelessness, and have the time necessary to locate a new home.
In a separate case, an elderly Army veteran lived for months in deplorable conditions. The landlord did nothing to fix the conditions, despite evidence of a severe roach infestation. Worse yet, the landlord ignored the veteran’s repeated requests for extermination services. Recognizing the unsafe living conditions, Alton negotiated with the landlord for the veteran to move into a new, upgraded apartment, free from infestation, along with two months of waived rent. This resulted in a $3,740 surplus for the veteran who lives on a fixed income.
Recognizing that many veterans who fought to defend American justice cannot afford to access it, Alton committed himself to serving the greater good, and advocate for those who need a hand up. Each day presents a new opportunity for Alton to brainstorm with his team of over 15 colleagues at VLI to determine how to best uplift the veteran community.