“With an increasing number of veterans returning home and having difficulty accessing the benefits they’ve earned, there is a great need for this clinic,” said Juliet Holmes-Smith, the director of the Volunteer Lawyers Project. “We hope this clinic will be the first of many in Maine.”
Local veterans will be able to get free help with their V.A. disability benefit applications and appeals on Saturday October 27 at the Portland Public Library through a free clinic sponsored by the Maine Volunteer Lawyers Project (VLP). Several volunteer attorneys and law students will provide free legal assistance to veterans applying for V.A. disability benefit from 10am to 4pm at the Portland Public Library at 5 Monument Square, Portland. Veterans interested in making an appointment ahead of time should call Rob Liscord, AmeriCorps VISTA member at 207-400-3232, although no appointment is necessary.
The process of applying for benefits is complicated: the National Organization of Veteran Advocates states that 70 percent of veteran benefits denials are overturned when they are appealed.
The number of attorneys and paralegals interested in volunteering to help to veterans has grown substantially due to personal experiences with family and friends who have had difficulty accessing the benefits they earned while in service. Maine ranks third in the nation for veterans per capita.
Tom Marczak, regional organizer for the ABA’s Young Lawyer’s Division, has worked with the VLP to train and get the proper accreditation for the attorneys volunteering at the clinic. This Portland clinic is modeled on the successful Project Salute Veteran Benefits Legal Aid Clinics that have taken place across the country in 2011 and 2012.
The VLP was created in 1983 to coordinate the volunteer efforts of Maine attorneys and community members in providing legal assistance to Mainers with low incomes. The VLP successfully leverages support for legal assistance from private attorneys; its extensive volunteer network generates $1.5 million a year of in-kind services, or roughly the equivalent of $2 in donated time for every $1 spent on VLP operations.