A tale of two communities: Bringing pro bono collaborative law to Illinois National Guard veterans
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair
—Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities (1859)
In time for Veterans Day 2015, the Collaborative Law Institute of Illinois and the Health & Disability Advocates of Warrior to Warrior have rolled out a pro bono program to assist veterans. The program will bring the Collaborative Practice model of divorce dispute resolution to Illinois Army National Guard Veterans and their families. The joint effort between these two distinct communities to create this pilot project was many months in the making and was spearheaded by the 2014-15 President of the Collaborative Law Institute of Illinois, Dr. Carroll Cradock. First a little about each community.
Illinois Warrior to Warrior (W2W) and the National Guard
Prior to the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, most National Guard personnel served “one weekend a month, two weeks a year.” However, due to strains placed on the military after 9/11 and as a result of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, mobilization increased to 18 and then to 24 months. By the end of 2007 nearly 28% of the total U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan consisted of mobilized personnel of the National Guard and other Reserve components. This from a fighting force which was originally conceived to be the “home guard” consisting of members who also had full-time civilian careers and community commitments. As one might imagine, as the strains of over a decade of war have taken their toll on the military at large, the strains on those who serve as part of the Guard have also grown exponentially.
The Illinois W2W helps bridge the gaps between military service for the Guard personnel and the return to civilian life. On its website (www.ilwarriortowarrior.org) are the following statics about the plight of the community it serves - 16% of the homeless population are veterans; 11% of Illinois veterans have disabilities stemming from military service; 300,000 returning veterans have Traumatic Brain Injuries and a full 50% have Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome of which over half of those go untreated. Illinois also has the 4th highest unemployment rate for veterans. It does not take much then to imagine the impact on families and children of returning Illinois National Guard personnel and the resulting increase in the breakdown of families and the resulting rate of divorce in that community. W2W recruits volunteer veterans from all branches and eras to serve as peer support for returning Illinois Army National Guard personnel and their families. These families are distinct from other military families as they do not typically live on military bases, where support services may more readily be accessible. A map of the Armory locations where services can be accessed through W2W is available on its site.
The Collaborative Law Institute of Illinois (CLII)
Since 1990 the Collaborative Law model of dispute resolution has been available to separating and divorcing families. It provides a non-court, private, multi-disciplinary approach to restructuring families impacted by divorce and separation. The Illinois Institute was founded in 2002 and its members, who come from three disciplines (law, mental health, and finance), are part of the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals (IACP - www.collaborativepractice.com). A worldwide organization with practitioners in 25 countries, IACP is the leader in education, standards and research for Collaborative professionals. In 2010 IACP issued a challenge to its members and statewide Practice Groups (of which CLII is one) to develop local pro bono programs. As a result of that challenge CLII formed its Community Outreach Committee which connected with and trained professionals in the local legal services community in the Collaborative Law model. Yearly, CLII provides scholarships to its Basic Collaborative Skills Training to those interested in bringing this model of dispute resolution to underserved and economically challenged communities. CLII Fellows (CLII lawyers, mental health professionals and financial professionals—members are called “Fellows”) form volunteer regional interdisciplinary teams which will provide divorce-related services free of charge to families referred through W2W during the pilot phase of this new program for Illinois veterans.
The CLII/W2W collaborative venture is one program, among many others around the country, which honors the IACP 2010 Pro Bono Challenge and which holds out hope that, through the availability of Collaborative Law professional volunteers, the veterans and their families might find some peace. It is the hope that through this joint venture the worst of times for returning veteran families can be turned around—that their “season of Darkness” and “winter of despair,” as so eloquently described by Dickens, might be ended through the practice wisdom around divorce, families, and restructuring after divorce which the volunteer Fellows of CLII are standing ready to share. For more about this pilot program please go to www.Collablawil.org.