Inspired by her father, who served in the Air Force, attorney Deborah Steeves initiated LASP's outreach to veterans in 2013, with a goal of making it easier for veterans to get legal help. Since then, LASP has held a monthly clinic at the Coatesville Veterans Affairs Medical Center on the second Wednesday of each month, from 9 a.m. to noon.
In any given month, Steeves will see 10-20 vets. She's helped nearly 1,000 vets with their legal issues since 2013. Veterans bring many types of legal problems to the clinic. Some are related to their service, or to resulting health challenges. Steeves recalled a veteran who had to leave his apartment in order to get treatment for PTSD related to his tour in Iraq. When his landlord refused to refund his deposit, LASP intervened and worked out an arrangement with his landlord so that he could break his lease without financial penalty. Another vet gave his car away when he was suffering from mental health issues. "We were able to successfully get him his car back," Steeves said.
Steeves helps veterans with many other issues, including bankruptcy; divorce; removing barriers to employment; preparing wills, powers of attorney and health directives; and family law problems. Steeves recalled a custody case with a gratifying outcome. "A veteran father had not been allowed to see his son for a year," she said. "LASP filed a petition for custody and was able to get an order allowing visitation. The son was so glad to be able to see his father again, while the father was able to enjoy a renewed bond with his son."
If veterans need legal assistance outside LASP's jurisdiction, Steeves can refer them to the appropriate Legal Aid organization nationally. She also refers veterans to programs such as the Military Assistance Project, which helps veterans seek bankruptcy protection if they are over LASP's income guidelines. Widener University's Veterans Law Clinic, which accepts PA residents, assists with veterans' disability claims.
While LASP doesn't assist clients in criminal matters, attorneys can refer them to Veterans Court in the appropriate jurisdiction. Steeves noted that most Pennsylvania counties now have veterans courts, in the same way that some specialized courts address mental health or drug issues.