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Michael Michaud

Statesidelegal.org: Helping Veterans and Military Families Access Legal Assistance
By Mike Michaud and Nan Heald
Dec 4, 2010 - 8:25:28 AM

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Military deployments are extremely tough on our service members and their families. But things can be made even more difficult when legal questions arise.

Both of our offices have worked on a variety of cases on behalf of our veterans and active duty military, and we've received many calls from Mainers seeking legal assistance for their family or their deployed loved ones. As we've met over the years and discussed various legal justice issues, we both agreed that more could be done to help connect those who serve with the legal advice and services that are not only available to them, but are tailored to their unique needs. Because Pine Tree Legal Assistance only has staffing sufficient to handle 20% of requests for help, a creative solution was needed to make new resources available on a limited budget.

Our discussions inspired the Legal Services Corporation to make a special technology grant available for the development of a new national website for military and veteran households. The new website, www.statesidelegal.org, was announced at a White House conference on access to justice on November 19th. This new website is dedicated to helping military and veteran families with legal problems that they confront. It was created and developed by Pine Tree Legal, and it is a huge step forward in our work to promote increased access to resources for those that have given up so much on behalf of us all.

The website is the first of its kind in the country to focus exclusively on the unique legal needs and rights of military and veteran families around the country. The website includes user-friendly legal information and self-help tools (including videos and interactive documents) related to common legal problems, including divorce, foreclosure and disability benefits. The website also identifies legal referral resources available through the military, state veteran services and legal aid programs funded by the Legal Services Corporation. Information on the website is organized and searchable according to legal problem, military status and state of residence.

Pine Tree Legal was chosen to serve as the lead agency for this project, based on its national reputation for developing other websites with high quality legal information written in plain English, including www.ptla.org , www.helpmelaw.org and www.kidslegal.org. Arkansas Legal Services Partnership and legal experts in Maine and around the country have also contributed content to the website. A special website advisory group includes both nationally recognized experts in military and veteran legal issues and key leaders from the military and veteran communities in Maine. Some of Pine Tree Legal's state funding has also been used to develop content for the website, and more work is planned for the future to make sure the site is comprehensive and up to date.

We encourage all Mainers to explore this new website and share it with those you think could use it. Through word of mouth and the sharing of this column, it is our hope that more of our men and women in uniform will gain access to valuable legal information on the issues that are affecting them and their families. We are confident that it will make a real difference to those that have given up so much to serve their country.

By Representative Mike Michaud (ME-02) and Nan Heald, Executive Director of Pine Tree Legal Assistance


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