Meeting the challenge of providing civil legal assistance to military and veteran households

10 strategies to improve legal aid support to low-income military & veteran households

  1. Ask all of your clients whether they or someone in their household “have military service.” You’ll find many have a military connection and the specific problem for which you are helping them may be just part of their overall need for service. Asking “are you a veteran” will limit the number of positive answers: different laws define that term in different ways, and many service members also have their own interpretation of who a veteran is.
  2. Become familiar with the resources available at www.statesidelegal.org, including the detailed advocate resources on the Advocate landing page.  Make sure your program is a listed resource in the “find legal help” directory – more than 14,500 unique visitors are on the site each week.
  3. Sign up for veteransclinics-request@lists.wm.edu launched by Professor Patricia Roberts at William & Mary Law School (http://www.law.wm.edu/veterans) to stay on top of emerging legal developments, case trends and best practices.
  4. Talk with the attorneys in your community/State who serve as JAG or military legal assistance officers on a full or part-time basis, so they know the types of cases to refer to your program and to promote case consultations where appropriate.  They are experts on military law, but may not be admitted to practice law in your State.   http://legalassistance.law.af.mil/content/locator.php
  5. Look for ways to strengthen support to homeless veterans and their families through funded VA partnerships (Supportive Services for Veteran Families and the VA “Grant and Per Diem” program) where the role of legal aid providers is recognized and valued.  Best practices are listed here.
  6. Look for ways to strengthen your capacity to handle and refer consumer matters on behalf of military or veteran families via the growing number of federal agencies with specialized resources and services in this area, including the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau, the Federal Trade Commission,, the Department of Justice  and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency.
  7. Encourage stakeholders in your State to consider undertaking a legal needs study specific to veterans and/or military families.  Both Maine and Montana did studies in 2012 that are available online (Maine's study is available here.)
  8. Be sure your program’s services and contact information  are listed in the databases used by traditional military and veteran groups, such as the legal assistance providers named in the National Resource Directory 
  9. State agencies also have specialists serving this client population, including your State's Department of Labor liaisons for veteran services including job training programs and the special unemployment compensation program for returning veterans, and your State Department of Education, since all states are now participating in the Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunities for Military Children.
  10. If your State is part of the growing movement of Veteran Treatment Courts, consider ways of making civil legal aid services part of a holistic approach.  A good place to start is with the Veteran Justice Outreach Coordinator in your State.

 

November 2017