ACCESS TO JUSTICE
BY SABRA JANKO
The CBA runs two impressive legal clinics for veterans: the Colorado Lawyers for Colorado Veterans Legal Clinics in Denver and Colorado Springs. Both clinics were created by CBA Immediate Past President John Vaught and former CBA Director of Public Legal Education Carolyn Gravit. The CBAs Amy Sreenen and Ashley Staab currently carry the torch for the clinics and run the CBA Military and Veterans Affairs Section.
The clinics are greatly valued by Colorado veterans. Due to our nation's access to justice crisis, many veterans struggle to obtain the assistance of counsel for their legal matters.1 Areas where veterans frequently need legal assistance include eviction and foreclosures, outstanding warrants and fines, public benefits, guardianship, consumer debt, criminal records, divorce, child support, and child custody.2
Veterans Legal Needs and Challenges
According to the Veterans Administration (VA), between 11 % and 20% of veterans who served in Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).3 This can make them particularly vulnerable to joblessness and homelessness. In addition, many veterans find it difficult to transition to civilian life and to connect with friends and family back home.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development estimates that about 40,000 veterans are homeless on any given night, and over the course of a year, approximately twice that many experience homelessness.4 Significantly, the VA only reimburses shelters for homeless veterans but not their children, which means that homeless veterans with children often must choose between staying by themselves in a shelter or living in a car with their children.5
Female veterans are the fastest growing segment of the homeless population.6 The primary causes of homelessness among women veterans include unemployment, disability, poor health, and lack of treatment for PTSD and anxiety issues.7 Many homeless women veterans are trying to cope with mental health issues, substance abuse, and physical and sexual trauma.8 Sexual assault, like domestic violence, cuts across all social classes. Arizona Senator Martha McSally, a female veteran, recently testified to Congress about sexual assault in the military, shared her personal experience with it, and discussed the lack of an effective response from military leadership.
Transitioning to Civilian Life
Military service transitions can be difficult and create legal needs as well. A Pew Study found that veterans who were married and deployed while in the service were significantly more likely than other veterans to have family problems after discharge, and 77% experienced a difficult reentry into the civilian sector.10 The report also noted that women veterans are almost twice as likely to divorce than civilian women.11
Many veterans report that their transition was harder than they expected it to be. A military transition is not a change from one job to another; it's a change from one culture to another. Despite the challenges of military service, the military is a culture of diversity, teamwork, comradery, and mutual support. It has an established and reliable support structure unparalleled in the civilian sector. For example, in the Army everyone has a "battle buddy"—a person whose job it is to look out for and keep his or her buddy safe. A common expression in the military is "I've got your six" —meaning "I've got your back." One veteran, when discussing his military service transition with me, said that he felt like he was transitioning into a "dog eat dog" world. For many veterans, finding their place after transition is not a quick or easy path, and there is often trial and error in finding a new mission.
Veterans from all walks of life may experience negative impacts in transitioning from military service. University of Denver Professor Ann Vessels began running the Veterans...