Fighting for Ohio’s Veterans: Legal Aid joins local, state and national efforts to provide legal services to low-income veterans

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Ohio is home to nearly 900,000 veterans, making it the sixth most veteran-populated state in the nation. The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland has always provided services to veterans. But, in 2012, the focus in veterans’ issues became a fully-integrated part of Legal Aid’s service delivery model.

Anne Sweeney, Managing Attorney for Community Engagement at Legal Aid, says Legal Aid’s current work with veterans was prompted by a variety of other efforts. The first was the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ Homeless Veterans Initiative, which dedicated $800 million to prevent homelessness among veterans and re-introduced the importance of veterans programs on a national scale. Ann Porath, Legal Aid’s Managing Attorney for the Volunteer Lawyers Program and Intake, cites the recognition of veterans issues as a priority by The Legal Services Corporation (LSC), which provides funding for legal aid providers nationally.

Additionally, The Ohio Military and Veterans Legal Assistance Program is a statewide effort led by Justice Evelyn L. Stratton of the Ohio Supreme Court. The program will function as a “statewide system of referrals that also works closely with legal aids, several law clinics, local pro bono efforts, bar associations and legal clinics.” Ms. Porath said, “Under Justice Stratton’s leadership, I am excited to think of how local and statewide efforts will develop and provide more services to our veterans.”

Locally, Legal Aid worked with two Case Western Reserve University Law School students, who are also U.S. veterans. The students were “energized to provide more services to veterans through other law students, Legal Aid, private attorneys and local bar associations,” said Ms. Porath.

The conversations, said Ms. Sweeney, culminated in one question: “How do we make sure there are legal services for U.S. veterans?”

This question was the basis for the first Veterans Roundtable discussion in August, where nearly twenty veteran service provider representatives came together to learn about Legal Aid and talk about ways to enhance legal services for veterans in Northeast Ohio. Since the August roundtable, Legal Aid hosted two clinics focused on legal issues of U.S. veterans. More clinics are planned for 2013.

Joshua Collins, a Veteran Representative for The Ohio Department of Job & Family Services, said the effort is “an excellent resource to gain more knowledge of Legal Aid, their mission and how to best utilize their resources to help veterans.”

Mr. Collins added, “I have had veterans get assistance for unemployment benefits, child support, and bankruptcy from Legal Aid. This assistance has helped them financially in the short-term as well as in the long run and put them on track until they were able to get back on their feet.”

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