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In service of those who served us: Veterans legal assistance programs

By Judge Barb Crowder, Edwardsville

The Third Judicial Circuit Pro Bono Committee continues to expand its services to veterans in honor of their service to this country. Madison County has a large number of veterans, many of whom are in reduced circumstances or homeless. Madison County started the first Veterans’ Court in the State of Illinois to help veterans navigate the criminal justice by connecting them with volunteers and with social services to assist with the problems that led many of the veterans to criminal court. The Pro Bono committee has focused on legal advice for civil court problems being experienced by veterans and has provided legal advice to veterans near each Veterans Day. For 2014, the Third Circuit Pro Bono Committee and the Madison County Veterans Assistance Commission are excited to announce the creation of the Third Circuit Veterans Legal Assistance Project (VLAP). The circuit’s programs for veterans have grown since the pro bono committee started in 2011. It provides:

1. Veterans Legal Assistance Project: Reduced Fee Attorneys

The Veterans Assistance Commission has secured short-term limited funds to allow it to pay a reduced fee to attorneys to handle cases for Madison County Honorably Discharged veterans that can be concluded with four to five hours of legal services. The attorneys who participate are volunteering to accept the reduced fee to provide services for those who have served their country. The Circuit is creating and announcing its new programs near Veterans’ Day. It will be matching Honorably Discharged low income Madison County veterans with attorneys to help them navigate the civil court system. Sign-up sheets for both attorneys and eligible veterans will be distributed beginning in November.

The Pro Bono Committee is committed to providing legal information and, if possible, legal assistance for eligible Madison County veterans who do not have the means to employ attorneys for simple civil cases such as small claims issues, landlord-tenant cases, child support, visitation and related problems that veterans have difficulty in handling on their own. The Veterans Assistance Commission is working with the Third Judicial Circuit Pro Bono Committee to provide more services for veterans through the limited funds that will allow the commission to pay some reduced legal fees for veterans. Brad Lavite, Superintendent of the Veterans’ Commission is a member of the Third Circuit Pro Bono Committee. To qualify, a veteran must provide proof of Madison County residency and an Honorable Discharge (DD-214) from the last period of Active Duty. Veterans applying for assistance must also have proof of income and expenses indicating an inability to pay. All applicants must meet income assistance guidelines and agree to adhere to VAC financial assistance guidelines.

2. Veterans Legal Information and Advice at Veterans Day

The Third Judicial Circuit Pro Bono Committee is once again providing specific legal advice for veterans in honor of Veterans Day. This year, the committee will be providing free legal advice for Veterans on two dates. On Monday, November 10th and Wednesday, November 12th, the free 30 minute appointments will be held at the Legal Advice Center at the Madison County Law Library, 155 North Main Street in Edwardsville. Advice can be obtained for any subject except criminal law.

3. Burial plots donation assistance     

In addition to seeking attorneys and veterans to sign-up for the new VLAP program, the Committee is pleased to announce that plans are underway to assist members of the public who would like to donate burial plots to the Veterans Assistance Commission to be given to indigent veterans and their families to assist with defraying the financial burden of burying a loved one. This service is part of the VAC’s Veteans Grave Restoration Program (VGRP) and the transfer of burial plots is being headed by Tanja Cook, a member of the Third Circuit Pro Bono Committee who is employed at Lueders, Robertson and Konzen. Any individual who wishes to donate a burial plot to the Veterans Commission will be provided the necessary paperwork to do so.

4. Public information and outreach

 Members of the Third Circuit Pro Bono Committee recently staffed a table explaining pro bono and reduced fee services for veterans at the Veterans Appreciation Day hosted by the Rotary Clubs of Madison County at Alton Square. Those members were Assistant State’s Attorney Sarah Smith, Tanja Cook from Leuders, Robertson and Konzen; Maureen Schuette from Schuette Law Offices, and Amy Maher, Director of Catholic Charities Legal Services.  Additionally, Sarah Smith and State’s Attorney’s Tom Gibbons worked with the Pro Bono Committee to sponsor an amnesty day for all veterans who had outstanding warrants in Madison County to be able to attend court and resolve their issues without fear of arrest.

The Veterans subcommittee consists of Amy Morgan from Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance Foundation; Assistant State’s Attorney Sarah Smith; Tanja Cook from Lueders Robertson, and Konzen; Brad Lavite and Nicolette Watson, also from the Veterans Assistance Commission.

The Third Judicial Circuit Pro Bono Committee also provides free legal appointments to low income members of the public who do not have attorneys, including veterans, on a regular basis. Attorneys are available by appointment on any legal subject except criminal law, including but not limited to subjects such as family law or areas such as debt collection, landlord tenant, small claims, or any other civil area of law. The free appointments are held the second and fourth Tuesday of each month. The appointments are for those of limited incomes who do not have attorneys and qualifying information is requested when the individual contacts Madison County Pro Bono Coordinator Betsy Mahoney.

Posted on November 4, 2014 by Chris Bonjean