Legal program organized to help SC veterans

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Serving in the military does not guarantee financial security.

Figures from the Columbia-based Appleseed Legal Justice Center show almost 30,000 South Carolina veterans living below the poverty line. Men and women who sacrificed for their country, facing new enemies of unemployment, homelessness, even hunger.

That's why Appleseed is working with the Veterans Administration to set up a new program providing free legal help to low-income vets.

"The veteran group that we're sort of concentrating on is those who are under 200% of the federal poverty guidelines," said Appleseed attorney Ashley Thomas. "So for one person that number is about $23,000 a year."

The program, Lawyers 4 Vets, is recruiting attorneys willing to provide pro bono, or free, assistance to veterans on a range of basic needs: Getting birth certificates and Social Security information, child support and simple wills, for example.

Attorney, veteran and state lawmaker James Smith is one of the Columbia lawyers who will take part.

"Your whole psyche is just filled with these experiences that you have a hard time resolving as you come back here and the world is normal and has gone on and it doesn't seem to change or matter to others and yet you can't get beyond it," said Smith. "And so those small things like getting access to identification, dealing with consumer issues,  you know, visitation, family issues as they try to reunite or re-engage with children, these are issues that require sustained involvement by an attorney."

"We're really, at this point, looking for attorneys who are willing to give back to those who have given so much for us," said Thomas.

Lawyers 4 Vets is still getting organized, so don't call just yet. But clinics are scheduled to start at the Dorn VA Medical Center on May 15th. Click here for details.

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