Post authored by Jillian Berner
Veterans Day may have come and gone, but attorneys have the opportunity to volunteer their time to assist veterans and their families 365 days a year in Chicago. According to recent statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau, there are over 727,000 veterans in Illinois. These veterans and their family members often have the same day-to-day legal problems you and I and our clients all may have, but there are also sometimes special circumstances that may affect those legal problems. Additionally, veterans and their families often seek benefits from the state or federal government and this process can cause headaches for even those familiar with the benefits systems.
If you are a veteran, service member, National Guard member, reservist, or dependent who is seeking legal assistance in the Chicago area, your first stop should be Illinois Armed Forces Legal Aid Network (commonly known as IL-AFLAN) (www.ilaflan.org, 855-452-3526). Managed by the Illinois Equal Justice Foundation and funded by a $2 filing fee tacked onto every civil filing in the state, IL-AFLAN manages a free statewide legal assistance hotline and network of legal assistance organizations. IL-AFLAN’s hotline can connect you with a network that includes CARPLS, the Center for Disability & Elder Law, Chicago Volunteer Legal Services, the John Marshall Law School Veterans Legal Support Center & Clinic, LAF, Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance Foundation, Loyola University of Chicago School of Law Veterans Legal Clinic, Public Interest Law Initiative (PILI), Prairie State Legal Services, and Southern Illinois University of Law Veterans’ Legal Assistance Program. Once you share your legal issue, IL-AFLAN may either assist you directly or connect you with an organization in the state that may be able to assist you.
The American Bar Association has also developed a great self-help tool for veterans, Legal Checkup (https://veteranslegalcheckup.com/). This free, interactive program allows veterans to answer a short questionnaire about legal needs and determine potential action and resources to assist them in pursuing assistance.
If you are an attorney seeking to volunteer to help veterans in Cook County, contact Chicago Volunteer Legal Services (https://www.cvls.org/new-volunteer-orientation). CVLS provides training and support, as well as malpractice coverage, for volunteer attorneys. Outside of Cook County, contact PILI (pili.org/pro-bono/il-aflan) to volunteer your time and services.
Attorneys seeking to assist a veteran who have appellate litigation experience (or want to expand their repertoire) should consider volunteering with the Veterans Consortium Pro Bono Program (https://www.vetsprobono.org/helpavet/) to represent a veteran before the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims. The Pro Bono Program trains attorneys and assigns attorneys cases and mentors who are experienced in veterans’ law.
There are many options for providing pro bono services for veterans in Illinois and attorneys who give their time are truly appreciated. Please consider reaching out to one of these organizations if you are interested.
About the Author:
Jillian Berner is the Interim Director of The John Marshall Law School Veterans Legal Support Center & Clinic and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (312) 360-2656.