Military families’ legal needs such as child support, custody and housing are similar to those of civilians, but they face circumstances unique to the military community. Staff at the Pierce County Prosecutor’s Office – many of whom are veterans themselves – are giving back by partnering with the Tacoma Pierce County Bar Association’s Volunteer Legal Services to staff the Family Law Clinic for Veterans. Volunteer attorneys and support staff assist low-income veterans with legal services during a free monthly clinic.
Special circumstances present unique challenges that make it difficult for many veterans to navigate the complex legal system. For example, court-ordered child support may be based on a soldier’s overseas or combat pay, but once the solider returns home, the amount becomes unaffordable and needs to be adjusted. Jurisdictional issues can also complicate custody matters because military families move quite often.
Due to the trauma of war, veterans often face a higher rate of divorce, domestic violence, substance abuse and homelessness. Veterans struggling with mental illness, disabilities and addiction have difficulty completing the necessary steps to address legal issues. Even for those that are able to overcome these barriers, the expense of hiring an attorney places a legal resolution out of reach for many veterans. The Family Law Clinic for Veterans aims to lessen these burdens by providing assistance with legal issues affecting common and basic human needs.
“The need for legal assistance will continue to increase as more service members return to civilian life,” said Prosecutor Mark Lindquist. “Those who have given so much to our country deserve our support.”
Making affordable legal services available is just the first hurdle. The second is to reach out to the veterans who are most in need. When the clinic was launched, the founders figured it would be easy to attract veterans given the large military population in the Tacoma area. They quickly learned that wouldn’t be the case. As they promoted the free services, the founders discovered that military families generally don’t trust organizations or individuals that aren’t already active in their community. Additionally, many veterans are reluctant to ask for help and believe they should be able to care for themselves. The clinic responded by taking a word-of-mouth approach to promotion. The clinic does significant in-person outreach to veteran service organizations that veterans trust.
The free clinic is held on the third Tuesday of each month at Volunteer Legal Services in downtown Tacoma. To be eligible for legal aid, veterans must apply in-person and have an income that does not exceed 200% of the federal poverty guidelines. To begin the process, veterans may contact the clinic by calling (253)572-5134.