Free legal aid for low-income SC veterans

04/22/2014 10:51 PM

04/23/2014 6:54 AM

A new partnership between lawyers and Veteran Affairs in Columbia will provide free legal aid to low-income veterans for issues such as child support and health care rights.

The pro bono legal clinic, called Lawyers 4 Vets, will start May 15 and take place every third Thursday of the month at the VA medical center in Columbia. The clinic is open to veterans in York County.

Veterans living at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty line can set up appointments to discuss legal issues including state-granted expungements and pardons for criminal histories, consumer protection cases involving scams or fraud, and drafting a last will and testament.

Lawyers also can help replace lost identification such as Social Security cards – the first step in accessing services such as food stamps.

Joe Medlin, director of veterans affairs in York County, said he speaks with many veterans who experience fraud, elder abuse and other legal issues. He is working with the York County Bar Association to set up his clients with private attorneys who often take on the cases free of charge.

“There’s no secret there’s definitely a need,” said Ashley Thomas, a lawyer with S.C. Appleseed Legal Justice Center, a nonprofit public legal service. The center estimates there are nearly 30,000 veterans statewide living in poverty.

Thomas spent more than a year with veteran outreach coordinators and other lawyers to create the clinic, which will rely on private attorney volunteers.

“We’re kind of doing this without any dedicated funding,” Thomas said.

“It’s just something we feel strongly about.”

Clinic partners include the Dorn VA Medical Center, the Appleseed center in Columbia, and Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough Law.

Because the VA is a clinic partner, lawyers can’t handle cases where the VA is a defendant, which includes pending disability claims or other benefits. Appleseed staff may refer those cases to another firm or organization.

Thomas said they are also open to expanding the clinic’s legal areas to other issues like divorce proceedings and tenant problems, but it will depend on need.

Clinic staff members are working to provide transportation for veterans to Columbia.

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