Houston Bar Association president Denise Scofield says they've given legal help to 4600 veterans since they began their program in 2008. Now that program is reaching out to 350-thousand veterans in 14 southeast Texas counties. Scofield says it's an extension of the veteran’s legal clinic they currently offer at the DeBakey V.A. Medical Center.
Volunteer lawyers offer free assistance to veterans who are trying to get benefits. They also offer advice on matters such as child custody cases and tenant/landlord disputes.
"As a result of being able to offer that entire menu of services, we are really able to make sure that we're providing a wide variety of assistance to veterans who may need it in the area."
The Veterans Legal Initiative is funded with a grant from the Texas Access to Justice Foundation. Scofield says volunteer lawyers from around the region will be trained on legal issues facing veterans. They'll hold clinics in smaller communities, using the Houston legal clinic as a model.
"It's really a one-on-one counseling session which occurs face-to-face. And we feel like that connection that's made really offers a much better service to the veteran rather than by doing it by letter, telephone, things of that nature."
And Scofield says much of their work focuses on veterans who have complex cases involving disability payments.
"Often they provide very complicated fact patterns with an entire tangled bureaucracy of different steps in the process that a veteran needs to be able to work his or her way through. We provide lawyers, who have specialties in that practice area, who can help the veteran make their way through the system."
But what if a veteran has a legal issue that's beyond the clinic's scope? Scofield says depending on income and other factors, a veteran may be able to get expanded services.
"We can match a lawyer with a veteran on a pro bono, meaning a for free basis. To the extent that a veteran has financial resources and can hire a lawyer, the other service we offer is the Houston Lawyer Referral Service, which can match the veteran with a lawyer with a practice area that the veteran needs."
Scofield says the legal clinics are also open to spouses of deceased veterans.