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Written by Cesar Torres, Executive Director
Northwest Justice Project

Low-income veterans across Washington now have an expanded NJP Veterans Project to help address the multitude of civil legal problems that prevent them from securing jobs, finding and keeping affordable housing, and ensuring they receive needed medical care and other benefits. Starting this month, NJP has expanded its Veterans Project from one (1) to six (6) full time attorneys to provide legal assistance to veterans from offices in Spokane, Everett, Olympia Seattle, and Tacoma and will launch a dedicated toll-free number for veterans seeking legal assistance on November 1st.

Washington is home to more than 650,000 veterans, including a greater than ever population of women veterans. A great number of veterans are dealing with difficulties transitioning to civilian life and the negative effects of sometimes multiple combat deployments, starting with the first Gulf War in 1990 through more recent deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan.

As a result of unaddressed civil legal problems, many veterans face multiple barriers to employment and stable housing, often involving the loss of their driver’s licenses, debt and credit issues, and involvement with the criminal justice system as a result of untreated mental health conditions or chemical dependency arising during or as a result of military service. Most estimates indicate that nearly 40% of post 9/11 veterans live with mild to disabling mental health conditions, including PTSD, Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), depression, and/or alcohol or other substance abuse issues. Often these at-risk veterans do not even know what medical treatment or benefits they may be eligible for, much less the availability of civil legal assistance necessary to secure care and overcome the barriers holding them back.

To help Washington low-income veterans address civil legal needs, and also to help all our communities benefit from the potential these veterans embody, NJP’s Veteran Project will reach out directly to low-income and at-risk veterans, and coordinate with veterans’ social services, health and housing providers, and Veterans Treatment Courts to address barriers to employment and housing faced by veterans. Special attention will be paid to women veterans who face greater barriers to accessing services and often require special outreach and services to deal with service related sexual abuse trauma.

Priority areas for legal assistance and representation include child support modification and arrears forgiveness, vacating prior criminal convictions, driver’s license suspensions, assistance with housing cases and removing barriers to housing, consumer law issues, veteran’s benefits, and state public benefits programs.

NJP’s expanded Veterans Project is coordinated by Steve Fredrickson and made up of a group of advocates, most of who are themselves veterans, and who are committed to the addressing the needs of veterans and who have significant commitment and experience working with vulnerable and at-risk communities. Leo Flor, based in Seattle, will focus his efforts on Veteran Treatment Courts in Seattle Municipal Court, King County, and Pierce and Thurston Counties helping to coordinate civil legal assistance with Veteran Court services for criminal justice system involved veterans. A veteran himself, Leo is the recipient of prestigious two-year Equal Justice Works Fellowship sponsored by Microsoft Corporation and the San Francisco based technology law firm of Fenwick and West LLP. Leo is an 8 year Airborne Ranger-qualified Infantry Officer, and was deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. He is a West Point graduate, and University of Washington School of Law Gates Scholar. While in law school he volunteered with NJP and co-authored Representing Washington Veterans, a nationally recognized manual that explains the legal and cultural basics for representing veterans in Washington. Most recently, he served as a Veteran Special Advisor assisting King County Executive Dow Constantine in developing the recently announced Regional Veterans Initiative.

Four of the Veteran Project attorneys are one-year Equal Justice Works-AmeriCorps Fellows funded in part by the Corporation for National and Community Service as part of Equal Justice Works’ recently launched national Veterans Legal Corps. Michelle Miller, an Air Force Veteran, now working in NJP’s Everett office will be serving Snohomish County, Skagit and Whatcom counties. She has already begun preliminary work on setting up a Veterans Court in Everett. Nadel Barrett, a Navy Veteran, now working in NJP’s Spokane office will be serving large areas of Eastern Washington and has already attended a Central Washington Stand-Down in Yakima. Adam Chromy, also based in Seattle, will serve King County veterans, which has been the focus of NJP’s Veterans project since it was launched three years ago and is supported by the King County Veterans and Human Services Levy and the Osborne Family Foundation.

Samantha Adams, also an EJW-AmeriCorps Fellow, and Alicia McCormick, a Coast Guard veteran, are based in Thurston and Pierce Counties respectively and will serve the Olympic Peninsula, including Kitsap County, and also South West Washington. Alicia’s position is funded through a Veterans Administration Supportive Services to Veteran Families (SSVF) grant to the Tacoma based Metropolitan Development Council. The SSVF grant, which also partners with the Longview Housing Authority, targets the housing needs of low-income veterans and their families in five southwest Washington counties.