In a twist of circumstance this year, one of the co-winners of the TALS B. Riney Green Award actually nominated the other winner. What a fitting occurrence for an award that seeks to “a way to recognize and emphasize the value the access to justice community has for a particular kind of accomplishment – one that promotes inter-program cooperation and strengthens access to justice across the state.”
One winner, who was profiled here recently, Beth Bates, of West Tennessee Legal Services, also nominated her co-winner: Russ Overby of the Legal Aid Society of Middle Tennessee and the Cumberlands. For those of us who work with Russ and Beth, the synergy in their winning this award together was perfect. Both have contributed so much for their clients and to other advocates across program lines.
Russ has many legal accomplishments, notably his work as lead co-counsel on the landmark Samuels case which revolutionized the weight given treating physicians’ opinions in Social Security Disability cases by the Tennessee Disability Determination Section in the 1980s. But this award went to Russ for his ability collaborate, teach, and bring others along through his advocacy efforts.
Throughout Russ’ career he has built bridges to other attorneys and advocates as he has represented his clients. He has engaged in long-term meaningful dialogue with state officials in the highest levels of Tennessee government. He works to keep open channels of communication with DHS and other state department officials. He also has been invaluable in leading CLE’s and training sessions of advocates across the state.
The very week we were at Equal Justice University giving Russ this award, his quiet advocacy produced another landmark result. Russ had raised with DHS an issue where clients who were eligible for assistance in paying their Medicare premiums were not aware of the assistance and others who had applied for assistance experienced a delay of several months in obtaining assistance. Russ raised this issue with officials with the Tennessee Department of Human Services with respect to these problems.
The result of this work was that DHS revised their application to make it clear that people could apply for assistance to pay for their Medicare premiums. They also devised an expedited approval process so that assistance in paying Medicare premiums would begin in the month that Medicare is first received.
This expedited approval process will save over $200 for every low income Tennessean who applies for assistance to pay Medicare premiums.
But possibly the most poignant comment that can be made about Russ comes from the words in Beth’s nomination of Russ for the Green Award: “Throughout all of the above, despite vast knowledge, Russ has always reached out to include and work as a team player with other advocates across the state. He uses his knowledge in a forceful but thoughtful and wise manner that is respectful of other advocates.”
~ Erik Cole, Director, TALS