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Erika’s Story

Written by Legal Aid WV


“It got to the point where something was going to break. I couldn’t stand not being me anymore,” Erika says as she recalls how she felt when she started her transition 15 years ago. “When I said enough was enough, it was here I am!”

An Army veteran who served for 20 years, Erika was combat wounded and discharged, which left her with a bit of a loss as to what to do. She became a VA Peer to Peer support counselor and advocate, working at her local VA medical center, where she helped veterans work through their trauma. Though she specialized in LGBTQ+ counseling, Erika worked with all veterans in her area, from a wide variety of backgrounds.

Erika finally made the decision she needed to change her name legally in 2022, after her retirement from the VA, but she was not exactly sure where to start on the name change process alone.

“I knew Legal Aid would help with this because of my connections through the VA,” she says. “Another therapist told me they heard Huntington Legal Aid was doing name changes. I didn’t try to do it sooner because I was worried about the cost.”

Attorney Russell Cook was assigned Erika’s case less than a year after joining Legal Aid of WV (LAWV). He had never done a name change with a client before, but he was eager to learn. Erika explains that he called her and let her know he was new to the name change process but said he wanted to learn, if she didn’t mind.

“Russ was amazing. When I spoke to him, I just knew this was going to happen. That’s how he made me feel,” Erika remembers. “And once he got involved—BAM! We were in court about a week later. The whole Huntington office was there for me, too, especially the legal assistant, Shelly. They went above and beyond.”

After her name change was complete, Erika started working through next steps. Russell gave her the Name Change Guide created by Fairness West Virginia that helped her follow through with getting her name on all of her documentation, including her birth certificate, because she has always been Erika. Her mother actually chose her name for her.

Now that her name legally reflects who she always has been, Erika says her life has changed.

“I don’t feel like people are looking at me cross-eyed. When I pull out my driver’s license, nobody asks me those stupid questions,” she says. “I always wanted all of it done, with my name changed, but I convinced myself it was fine. I’m getting older, and things are changing. I wanted to make sure when I die, I’m going to die as me.”

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