“We need to start a legal clinic to address the unmet legal needs of North Carolina Veterans.”
Roughly 2.6 million American military personnel have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. As these veterans return from war and reenter civilian life, many carry with them permanent reminders of the sacrifices that they’ve made for our country. Some of these reminders are physical; almost a million veterans suffer from a “military service-connected disability rating of 70 percent or more.” Other reminders of war are more emotional in nature. For example, the VA estimates that between 11–20% of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans suffer from PTSD.
These younger veterans, like Vietnam veterans before them, often struggle with the transition to civilian life. A 2014 joint survey by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), and U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) estimated that there are 49,933 homeless veterans in the United States. In addition to homelessness, multiple sources indicate that veterans struggle with unemployment at a higher rate than their civilian counterparts.
These struggles often result in legal issues that veterans are not financially equipped to handle. The American Bar Association Commission on Homelessness & Poverty has noted that “Many homeless veterans find that their ability to secure employment and/or move into permanent housing is compromised by old fines, debts and other legal judgments. Many of these obligations were incurred while the veteran was homeless, in a phase of active addiction, or otherwise untreated for a serious mental illness.”
Filing the Gap
The military does provide certain organizations to assist service members. These organizations often try to find legal services for the service member outside the military system, however, these organizations are often understaffed, not responsive and may not be able to provide the requisite service to fill the need of the service member. If the organization is able to find an attorney to accept the service member’s case, it is often done in a pro bono manner, and is not the highest priority of the attorney. Furthermore, these services are not always provided pro bono.
Active duty service members are afforded basic legal services from the base they are located. This encompasses legal services related to their duties, often will creation, divorce representation, and defense to charges under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (“UCMJ”).
Reservists are not provided the same legal services as active duty personnel, unless they have been activated to active duty. Many reservists face legal challenges to their status as reservists. These include employment issues as a result of their military duties and landlord/tenant issues as a result of military orders. Often times, legal issues faced by reservists are at the expense of the service member.
The Veterans Legal Clinic will provide legal assistance to North Carolina veterans for legal issues that are currently underserved by existing programs. The work that will be provided, on a pro bono basis, will allow both active duty and reservists an opportunity to seek legal representation with an individual law student under the supervision of a licensed attorney.