PLC LAUNCHES MILITARY VETERANS PROJECT
As the war in Afghanistan winds down, more and more veterans are returning home and seeking to re-enter the lives they left behind. They will join the ranks of the over 140,000 veterans estimated to live in Orange County. To meet the legal needs of this growing population, the Public Law Center has created a new outreach effort to military veterans, including those who are homeless.
Equal Justice Works AmeriCorps Legal Fellow, Antoinette Balta, has been assigned to lead PLC's new veterans project, Operation Veterans Re-Entry, a program dedicated to providing Orange County veterans and their families with free legal assistance to facilitate their re-entry into civilian life.
Legal issues for veterans range from family law, landlord-tenant disputes, consumer fraud, military and veterans benefits, healthcare, expungement of criminal records, discharge upgrades, child support, military sexual trauma, guardianships and conservatorships. Together with our staff, pro bono attorneys from the community provide an incredibly valuable service to these clients. In the past six months, over 150 veterans have received free legal assistance. Examples of cases include stopping the illegal eviction of a veteran from his home, stopping the wrongful garnishment of a veteran's bank account by a government entity, assisting veterans with their VA benefits and gaining the return of a veteran's personal belongings that were wrongfully withheld by a landlord. This included the return of his Green Beret!
Operation Veterans Re-Entry honors the legacy of Captain Matthew Patrick Manoukian, United States Marine Corps, 1st Marine Special Operations Battalion, who was killed in combat August 10, 2012 in Sangin District, Afghanistan. Captain Manoukian, an Orange County native, had been accepted to law school and planned to begin law studies after returning from Afghanistan. He wanted to enter public service as a public defender. Both of Matthew's parents are Judges: Socrates Peter Manoukian is a Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge, and Patricia Bamattre-Manoukian is an Associate Justice on the California Court of Appeal in San Jose and a former Orange County Deputy DA and former Orange County Municipal Court Judge.
PLC's Operation Veterans Re-entry works with a wide array of veterans groups including the Orange County Department of Veterans Services, Working Wardrobes, Veterans First, the American GI Forum of the United States Rudy Escalante Chapter, Elite SDVOB Network of Orange County, Disabled Veterans of America, and Volunteers of America. As their experience confirms, the need is great. The unemployment rate for veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is over 10 percent - three full percentage points above the national average. Relatively minor legal problems can be major obstacles to employment, personal health and family relationships. Once legal problems are resolved, veterans become more employable and significantly more likely to become productive members of society.
Shockingly, homelessness is an epidemic affecting veterans and their families from all eras. Estimates indicate there are between 1,500 and 3,000 homeless veterans in Orange County. Further, it is estimated that nearly 10,000 veteran households are at significant risk of homelessness and half of veterans who are experiencing homelessness have legal issues. Resolution of those issues can place an at risk veteran on a path towards stable housing and a better life.
If you are interested in assisting one of our veteran clients, particularly a homeless or at-risk of being homeless veteran, with his or her legal issues, please contact Antoinette Balta at 714-541-1010 x291