To meet the legal needs of the growing veteran population, PLC created an outreach effort to military veterans called Operation Veterans Re-Entry. This program is dedicated to providing Orange County veterans and their families with free legal assistance to facilitate their re-entry into civilian life, including those who are homeless.
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.
PLC’s Operation Veterans Re-Entry works with a wide array of veterans groups including the Orange County Veterans Services Office, Working Wardrobes, Veterans First, Volunteers of America, the American GI Forum of the United States Rudy Escalante Chapter, Elite SDVOB Network of Orange County, Disabled Veterans of America, the Vet Center and US VETS.
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.
Never above you. Never below you. Always beside you.
PLC’s Veterans Project, Operation Veterans Re-Entry, is dedicated to Captain Matthew Patrick Manoukian, a veteran who lived by the above motto. He likely would not have needed any of the legal services this program offers, but instead would have been volunteering to provide those services. Captain Matthew Patrick Manoukian, United States Marine Corps, 1st Marine Special Operations Battalion, was killed in combat August 10, 2012 in Sangin District, Afghanistan.
Captain Manoukian deployed twice to Iraq (2007-2009) and twice to Afghanistan (2010-2012) where he worked to train local police forces, open schools and courts and establish the rule of law. While he received many medals and commendations including two Purple Hearts and two Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medals, Manoukian’s humility prevented him from speaking of these awards. A fiercely loyal son, brother, friend, and Marine, he cared tremendously for every one of the Marines under his command and brought every one of them home alive in his three previous deployments. He always used to say, “Don’t worry I’ve got your back”. He was a Marine’s Marine.
Captain Manoukian had strong ties to the legal community and to Orange County – he was born in Orange County and was residing in Seal Beach at the time of his last deployment. His mother, the Honorable Patricia Bamattre-Manoukian, an Associate Justice of the 6th District Court of Appeal in San Jose, is a former Orange County Deputy D.A. and former Orange County Municipal Court Judge. His father, the Honorable Socrates “Peter” Manoukian, is a Superior Court Judge in Santa Clara County.
Captain Manoukian had been accepted to law school and planned to enter after returning from Afghanistan. His re-entry plan was never executed due to his tragic death. Had his death not deprived him of the opportunity to pursue a legal career, Manoukian would have been a champion of justice for clients like those who come to PLC.
Captain Manoukian was honored posthumously by the California Judicial Council in December 2012 with the Stanley Mosk Defender of Justice Award. In June 2013 he was honored posthumously with the Douglas A. Zembiec Award for Outstanding Leadership in Special Operations by General James F. Amos, Commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps. General Amos described Manoukian as “an exemplary leader with astute tactical acumen.” This is a description any lawyer would be proud to claim.In January 2014, Captain Manoukian was awarded posthumously the Navy Cross, the nation’s second highest decoration awarded for valor in combat.
Americans are proud to support the cause of justice in their own unique ways. Lawyers can support justice and the heroism of our military by volunteering to take a case from PLC’s Operation Veterans Re-Entry. In so doing, we say to veterans, we are “Never above you. Never below you. Always beside you.”