Bar News - February 19, 2010
Legal Aid for Veterans
By: Jonathan Baird and Daniel Feltes
With the passing of SB35 during its last session, the NH Legislature formed a commission to study the creation of a legal aid project for low and moderate income veterans in New Hampshire. The bill reflects the efforts of bi-partisan sponsorship by Senators Jack Barnes and Maggie Hassan, and Representatives Russ Ober, Frank Emiro and Kris Roberts. The commission, under the leadership of Senators Jack Barnes and Matthew Houde, is planning to put the project into action.
Veterans comprise about 10 percent of the state’s population. Upon returning from service in Afghanistan and Iraq, they often face psychological, physical and economic obstacles that require legal advocacy. Of particular note is the reported high incidence of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury (TBI), making it even more difficult for New Hampshire’s veterans to make ends meet, to get the benefits to which they are entitled, and to get and protect affordable housing.
Mary Morin, the Director of the State Veterans’ Council, has identified a significant need for pro bono legal advocacy for veterans and has determined that the creation of a veterans’ legal aid project could significantly improve delivery of services. The commission includes representatives from the State Veterans’ Council, NH Legal Assistance, the Military Section of the NH Bar Association, the Adjutant General of the NH National Guard, Employment Security, the NH Veterans’ Home, the Department of Health and Human Services, the US Dept. of Labor’s NH Office of Veterans Employment and Training Services, along with many other organizations and service providers.
In gathering information about the unmet legal needs of New Hampshire’s veterans, the commission has heard from the service officers of the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars. Both have highlighted the need for legal representation in evictions, foreclosures, utility shutoffs, and Social Security Disability claims.
The hope is that staff at the State Veterans’ Council, NHLA, and the NHBA Pro Bono Program would work with veteran service organizations and homeless shelters to reach veterans who have pressing legal needs. The State Veterans’ Council would refer cases these organizations cannot handle to either NHBA Pro Bono or NHLA.
The commission hopes also to create a training program for attorneys so that they will be qualified to take on more types of cases on behalf of veterans on a pro bono basis.
Jonathan Baird is the policy director for NHLA and Dan Feltes is a staff attorney.