New website helps veterans with legal problems
WASHINGTON — The first website in the nation to focus exclusively on federal legal rights and resources important to veterans has been launched and is receiving visitors from all 50 states and 77 countries worldwide, including Iraq and Afghanistan.
The website — StatesideLegal.org — was created by Pine Tree Legal Assistance in Portland, Maine, a nonprofit legal aid program funded by the Legal Services Corporation. The website was launched last November as part of an LSC initiative to expand access to legal services for veterans. In the 15 weeks since the launch, the website has recorded about 79,000 page views, with almost 8,000 in the past two weeks as traffic continues to grow at the site, according to a press release from LSC.
A $300,000 grant from LSC's Technology Initiative Grants program provided the key funding to build the website. Recently awarded technology grants will be used by Pine Tree to expand StatesideLegal's content and develop a new library of legal resources for professionals working with low-income veterans. An additional technology grant to the Legal Aid Society of Louisville will automate the initial application for disability compensation, helping veterans across the nation to improve the quality of their benefits application.
Nan Heald, executive director of Pine Tree Legal Assistance, said, "We are extraordinarily pleased by the tremendous, positive reception that StatesideLegal has received. We have prioritized some of the most serious problems faced by veterans and their families, including foreclosure, consumer debt and help for those with disabilities, including traumatic brain injury. Veterans, military families and military personnel will find information on the website that helps them solve their own problems or helps them find someone who can provide legal advice."
"I don't think there is anything more important than serving our nation's veterans," LSC Board Chairman John G. Levi said. "Our veterans have defended and protected our most basic freedoms and it is imperative that we reach out to them. The StatesideLegal website also will help the government enhance interagency support to veterans, who deserve the full protection of our legal system."
LSC also has launched an awareness and training campaign to create referrals between legal aid offices and the Department of Veterans Affairs Readjustment Counseling Service offices, known as Vet Centers, across the nation. The campaign has moved in phases, beginning with the mid-Atlantic region, Maine and Arkansas. LSC programs are now reaching out and facilitating information exchanges with the nearly 240 Vet Centers in the rest of the country, including centers in the largest states, such as California, Texas, New York and Florida.
At the January annual meeting of the LSC Board of Directors, representatives of three LSC-funded programs—Jack Block of the Legal Aid Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago, Nicole Perez of the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles and Marc Theriault of the Legal Aid Society of Louisville—participated in a roundtable discussion with Board members moderated by Bristow Hardin, an LSC program analyst. The three programs described the progress that has been made in recent years in helping homeless veterans, assisting veterans who suffer from combat-related stress qualify for benefits and treatment, and creating collaborative efforts that pull together community and federal resources to focus on veterans issues.
LSC was established in 1974 as an independent nonprofit corporation to promote equal access to justice and to support the provision of high-quality civil legal assistance to low-income Americans. The corporation, which is funded through an annual appropriation by Congress, distributes grants to 136 independent nonprofit legal aid programs with more than 900 offices across the country.