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Service & Sacrifice: Second Chance Saviors

“They came to my rescue," said Vietnam veteran Melvin Oggs about the legal and emotional support he received from fellow veterans through Vet to Vet Tennessee.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — A dust-up with neighbors followed by a confrontation with police put a decorated Vietnam veteran behind bars facing a felony charge.

“Had I not had Vet to Vet on my side, I might still be in jail,” said 73-year-old Melvin Oggs as he praised the legal and emotional help he received from the charity.

Vet to Vet was founded by veterans to help other veterans in trouble. The organization works to improve and increase mental health services through community education and service.

“He worked at TVA, was a quality manager, never had any problem in his life,” said Ed Junod with the Vet to Vet Tennessee who, back in 2014, stepped in to help fellow veteran Melvin Oggs connect with counseling, legal help, and receive benefits due to that combat soldier from the Veterans Administration.

Credit: John Becker
Pictures of Melvin Oggs from his library archive of his service in Vietnam

“My first check was for $9,000,” said Oggs about his 100 percent disability diagnosis for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and the life-changing difference it made emotionally and financially.    

“It’s meant a lot. I’ve seen veterans come in [with] the same problem that I had,” said Oggs.

He now serves as a mentor for other veterans in counseling.  Another way he is helping pay back the support he received is by using his church in Monroe County to host an expungement clinic designed to help other people with criminal records clear their cases and remove fines.

Credit: University of Tennessee Law School
A University of Tennessee Law expungement clinic

“The one amazing thing about the events is just the immediate impact,” said Joy Radice who serves as Director of Clinical Programs at the University of Tennessee Law School. 

For almost a decade, she has coordinated free expungement clinics across East Tennessee. Once a semester, University of Tennessee law students devote a Saturday to helping a wide range of people burdened by criminal records navigate their options under the law.

“You're talking about the possibility to get federal benefits, the possibility to get state licenses," said Radice. "So, if you're thinking about somebody who wants to be a barber or cosmetology, they need a certain state license, if there's something on their record that would keep them from and potentially deny them from that license." 

She said that her students have helped hundreds of people regain the ability to obtain a driver’s license, apply for a job and rent an apartment.

“There was one time where a woman came out of the courtroom and just started singing," she said. "And she grabbed her student attorney and just hugged the student attorney with tears coming down her eyes because the burden that she had felt for years and years had been lifted.”

The next clinic is set for Saturday, October 30 from 9 a.m. through 2 p.m. at First United Church of Christ at 1018 Morris Street, Sweetwater, Tennessee 37874.

Participants must pre-register through this link: www.ExpungeTN.org/register

Registration is limited to the first 80 people.