Veterans make up just seven percent of the U.S. population. So it’s safe to say that for large swaths of our country, the realities of military service are somewhat removed from our daily lives and sphere of understanding.
Though the sacrifices made by veterans are brought to our attention on Memorial Day and Veterans Day, the emotional or physical wounds that some vets carry are a constant, daily struggle. Some experience a spiraling effect on their personal relationships and ability to manage basic life responsibilities.
According to a 2017 HUD report on homelessness, nine percent of the U.S. homeless population is made up of veterans (40,056 veterans). It’s a tragedy when any person experiences homelessness, but especially so when their service to our country has played a role in them being in that situation.
These men and women often face a variety of legal needs. In fact, a survey released in May by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs found that four of the top 10 unmet needs for homeless veterans result from a lack of legal assistance. They are:
● Legal assistance for child support issues (No. 5 for males, No. 5 for females)
● Legal assistance to help restore a driver’s license (No. 8 for males, No. 8 for females)
● Legal assistance for outstanding warrants and fines (No. 9 for males, No. 10 for females)
● Legal assistance to prevent eviction and foreclosure (No. 10 for males)
These unresolved legal issues often contribute to the cycle of poverty that keeps these veterans in a homeless situation. Wrongful eviction or foreclosure can force residents from their homes, robbing them of a stability that we all depend on. Outstanding warrants and fines can pile up beyond a person’s ability to pay, possibly leading to jail time. The ability to bring in money through a job can be hampered by the lack of a fixed address, and without a driver’s license, commuting to a job by other means can be a struggle.
All of these issues feed into one another, and the effect can be overwhelming. But there is help available. At Legal Aid Society, we provide free legal services for veterans and other low-income Tennesseans throughout our 48-county Middle Tennessee and Cumberland Plateau service area.
We recently partnered with several other local groups to launch The Veterans Project, a program that offers legal assistance to veterans. We take direct referrals from the Metro Homelessness Commission and the Veterans Court, and coordinate the staffing of Attorney for a Day events held each Wednesday at Operation Stand Down Tennessee, where veterans from across Middle Tennessee and the Cumberland Plateau can meet with one of our volunteer attorneys from several local law firms.
Although the program’s main focus is veterans who are homeless or facing homelessness, assistance is also available for a range of civil legal issues, including child support, debt, bankruptcy, car purchase/repair, family law, expungement and reinstatement of driver’s licenses.
Our veterans have fought and sacrificed for our country, and we must do our part by fighting for them in return. Helping them confront their legal troubles is one way of bringing much-needed stability into their lives.
To schedule an appointment at Operation Stand Down’s Tennessee office, call 615-248-1981. You can also learn more about our free legal services by visiting https://las.org/find-help/self-help-resource-center/legal-help-booklets.
DarKenya Waller is the executive director of Legal Aid Society of Middle Tennessee and the Cumberlands. Legal Aid Society is Tennessee’s largest non-profit law firm and serves 48 counties across Middle Tennessee and the Cumberland Plateau. Learn more at www.las.org.