Supporting Our Heroes

Help For Veterans' Legal Concerns

Veterans are those in the community who deserve the most honor and respect. They have spent much of their lives protecting and serving the country and should be honored as a result. Unfortunately, in the United States there appears to be a disconnection between what veterans deserve to receive, and what civilian life is really like for them. Many struggle financially because they lack the services they need when difficult times strike. In fact, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, 24.8 out of every 10,000 veterans in the United States are homeless. Many more are struggling, though they have not yet become homeless. While these numbers are slowly improving, chronic homelessness remains a problem for a significant number of veterans.

Many organizations throughout the United States believe this problem should not exist. After bravely serving the country in the military, these men and women deserve to have the proper support at home so they can enjoy a normal, healthy civilian life. In an attempt to figure out the solution to this problem, Project CHALENG (Community Homelessness Assessment, Local Education and Networking Groups) was established in 1994. Project CHALENG performs an annual survey of homeless veterans to determine where services are needed. In 2014, the survey found that five out of the ten most common problems cited by homeless vets were legal concerns. This guide will showcase these concerns, and then provide resources to help veterans get the critical help they need to move past these concerns and enjoy a normal, healthy, and stable civilian life.

Legal Concerns Surrounding Child Support

Military life is hard on families. Extended absences combined with the stress of the battlefront can make marriage challenging. Surprisingly, divorce rates are relatively low, particularly when the service member or veteran is the male spouse. The University of Florida reports that military divorce rates are actually lower than that of civilian divorce rates when the enlisted spouse is the man. The same report found that the divorce rate was almost double for military women than for military men. Military.com breaks this down as 2.6 percent for military men and between 6 and 7 percent for military women.
 
Divorce when one spouse is a service member does bring some unique challenges, but those challenges escalate when children are involved, specifically when it comes to paying child support. Also, members of the military who are not married but have children will have to face child support concerns. Veterans who receive benefits are often surprised to learn that their benefits are at risk in child support situations.
 
If you are a veteran or service member who must pay child support, there are steps you can take to protect yourself and understand your legal rights. Here’s what you need to know.
  • Understand your obligations. If you are ordered by the court to pay child support, you must pay it, or you could be held in contempt.
  • Hire a lawyer. Choose one who has a background in both family law and military law, as there are some unique aspects to child support and veteran’s benefits that your lawyer needs to understand. Consider looking for one that offers pro bono services to veterans.
  • Understand the process of apportionment. If you are receiving VA benefits, including disability benefits, pension,      compensation, or retirement pay, your wages may be apportioned to pay your child support. For your benefits to be apportioned, your child’s other parent will need to apply for apportionment through the VA. Apportionment will be between 20 and 50 percent of your income.
  • Determine if you have a qualified exemption. The VA cannot grant a claim for apportionment if your benefit is too small to be divided between you and your child. Also, if someone else has legally adopted your child, you are exempt. You do not have to prove these exemptions, as the VA will look for them when considering the request for apportionment from the other parent.
  • Keep good records. At any point in the apportionment process, the VA may ask for records of your income, past child support payments, expenses, and other financial records. If requested, you must present these within 60 days.
  • Request a hearing if you disagree with the proposed withholding. After your ex has requested apportionment, you will receive a “Proposed Adverse Action” notice. If you disagree or feel that the amount will create undue hardship, request a hearing with the VA. You have 30 days to do so. This will stop the payments until the VA makes its final decision.
  • File a notice of disagreement if you disagree with the final decisionUse VA form 21-0958 and send it to the VA to appeal the decision.
  • Ensure that the family court recognizes the VA apportionment payment as part of your original child support order.      One problem many veterans face if they have their benefits apportioned is the fact that the VA sends the payment directly to the recipient, rather than sending it through the state like other child support payments would be sent. This can cause a disconnect between the state and the VA that makes it appear as though the veteran is not paying the child support as ordered, when in fact the apportionment covers it. To fix this, request a hearing in family court to request that the judge allow VA apportionment money to be recorded as meeting the court’s child support order.
  • Request child support modification if your income changes. Whether or not you receive VA benefits, if your income changes, request modification of your child support agreement so you are paying an amount that is in line with your current income.
For more help with child support payments, visit:
 

Legal Help to Prevent Foreclosure and Eviction

When veterans cannot pay their mortgage, they face the very real reality of foreclosure and eviction. Thankfully, mortgage delinquency rates for VA loans in the United States have dropped significantly since a high of nearly 8 percent in 2009, weighing in at 4.5 percent in 2015, but this number still represents veterans who end up with no place to live because they have a financial setback and cannot pay their mortgages. If you are a veteran who is facing the reality of foreclosure, you need to know that you have options.
 
First, understand the legality of foreclosure for members of the military. The Service Members Civil Relief Act of 2003 and the subsequent Foreclosure Protection Act of 2008 put into place protections when a service member is in active military service. These protections are important, but they only apply to those who are returning from active duty. For veterans who have been out of the military for a while, help exists through the VA Home Loan Program. It’s important to follow all of the necessary steps to get help if you are facing a financial challenge. Here are some options to help protect your home if your financial situation has become challenging.
  • Create a budget. Track your income and expenses to see if there are places where you are wasting money, which is contributing to your mortgage shortfall. Sometimes this is all that is necessary to find the funds to pay for your loan. VeteransPlus can help you with financial and budgeting counseling.
  • Reach out to your lender. The first step when facing pending foreclosure is to reach out to your lender. Lenders lose money when a home goes into foreclosure, so yours may be willing to work with you.
  • Reach out to your landlord. If you are renting, do the same with your landlord. Again, eviction is a costly and frustrating process, so your landlord may be willing to help you get back on track.
  • Keep paying as much of your mortgage as you can. Sometimes it’s tempting to just stop paying your mortgage when things get tight. Instead, keep paying, and reach out to your landlord to discuss modification before you head towards foreclosure. Lenders are often more willing to work with borrowers who are trying to stay consistent.
  • Ask for special forbearance. Special forbearance is an agreement between the servicer and the borrower that states that the service will not initiate foreclosure for a period of time while the borrower tries to make up the missed payments. During the forbearance period, the lender will also suspend payments. Because the VA encourages this practice, most lenders who offer VA home loans are willing to consider this. Before you ask for special forbearance, make sure you can show the lender that the money will be coming in. For example, if you will be starting a new job or getting a big tax return, but just need a little time, your lender will be more willing to consider forbearance.
  • Make an appointment with your regional loan center. These loan centers will help guide veterans through their options, especially those who have VA guaranteed home loans.
  • Consider loan modification. Loan modification adds the delinquency to the loan balance and sets up a new, more manageable repayment schedule. Loan modification for veterans will be offered for free, whether or not you have a VA home loan. Under current law, all loan servicers are required to provide veterans with an evaluation for traditional loss mitigation action, which means giving them the option to pursue loan modification or other options. To ask for loan      modification, call your lender and tell them that you are a veteran who wants to be evaluated for loan modification.
  • Ask about the Home Affordable Mortgage Program (HAMP).  If you are denied loan modification, ask about the HAMP program. You may be able to get modification through this route. HAMP is a program for homeowners that modifies loans to make them affordable and sustainable.
  • Call the VA. Call the VA at 877-827-3702. The VA offers counseling services to veterans whether or not they have a VA Guaranteed Loan.
  • Seek housing assistance. If you are unable to work out modification with your lender or have been evicted, call 877-4AID-VET to talk to the National Call Center for Homeless Veterans. There are many programs available for veterans facing homelessness to help them get back on their feet, and housing assistance is one of these. Housing assistance provides rental assistance vouchers for qualified veterans to use to get acceptable housing.
  • Get legal help if you suspect you have been discriminated against. Many states, such as Washington, have laws in place that protect veterans and military service members from discrimination based on their military status. If you suspect you have been discriminated against, you will need to talk to an attorney for help.
For more information about avoiding foreclosure and eviction, visit:

Legal Help to Restore a Driver’s License 

Getting to and from work is difficult without a driver’s license. Veterans who have lost their driver’s license for one reason or another may feel trapped. A driver’s license is also essential to ensuring a veteran can get access to health care, maintain relationships with family, and get other services in town.
 
If you have lost your driver’s license, you do have options. Here are some steps you can take to get your driving rights back.
  • Research the requirements for license reinstature in your state and county. Because driver’s licensing is a state and county specific issue, the steps will be different. If your license was revoked due to a driving infraction, you may have to take classes and pay a fine. If it simply expired, you will need to pay to have it renewed. You may also need to re-take your driving exam.
  • Read the suspended license notice you received. Your DMV will send this to the address they have on file, so if you have and a change in address you may have to track it down. If you cannot find it, ask the DMV for a copy of your driving record.
  • Gather the right identification. For veterans that have been homeless, this can be a challenge. Without a mailing      address, and the appropriate proofs, you cannot get a driver’s license. Working with a homeless veteran’s organization in your area can help you work through these hurdles.
  • Pay the license reinstatement fee at the end of your suspension period. This is the first step in most states to get your license reinstated. If you are having trouble with the cost of the reinstatement fee, find a veteran’s relief organization in your community that will have resources to help.
  • Purchase car insurance, and present proof. You cannot get your license back if you don’t have proper car insurance.
  • Complete any required classes. Many types of license revocation, such as DUI or traffic infractions, require the driver to take classes in driving safety before the license is restored.
  • Request a relicensing hearing. Many states require drivers to have a relicensing hearing once they have completed all of the steps. You will need to request this through your DMV.
  • Talk to your local VA about any ticket or court cost forgiveness dates. Some courts and veteran’s organizations are partnering to offer veterans court days when they can have their fines reduced or forgiven. If you qualify for one of these, it can give you a fresh start as you seek to get your license back. 
For more information on getting a revoked license reinstated, visit:

Legal Help for Outstanding Warrants and Fines

Criminal and credit history problems can make it difficult for a veteran to move past financial concerns. In fact, this was among the top ten problems facing homeless veterans in a 2014 survey by the National Center for Medical Legal Partnerships. Criminal charges and warrants can haunt a veteran for a lifetime. Veterans who are receiving benefits from the VA and have warrants out for their arrest may be categorized as fugitive felons, which then would mean their benefits are canceled. Without access to legal help, the vet may feel as though there is no way out.
 
If you are facing fines, outstanding warrants, criminal charges, or credit problems that you need to fight, here’s where to start;
  • Find out if your city or metro area has a legal assistance program for veterans. Some examples of these include the Legal Assistance Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago or the Legal Connection: Military Matters in Kansas City.
  • Work to find a pro bono lawyer who is willing to take your case. The National Veterans Legal Services Program keeps a running list of firms that offer pro bono work for lawyers. See if one of these lawyers is near enough to you to provide service.
  • Contact the Public Counsel Center for Veterans’ Advancement. This organization provides legal representation to veterans and military families both locally and nationally. It’s the largest pro bono law firm in the world, and may be able to assist you in fighting your warrant, fines, or charges.
  • Get a public defender. If you have been charged with a crime, you have the right to a lawyer, and if you cannot afford one you will be appointed a public defender. To prove that you cannot afford a lawyer, be prepared to show your income and assets information to the judge when you go to court for the first time.
  • See if your state has a Veterans Court. Some states have specialized courts for veterans that offer alternative sentence options for vets. If this is available, it is likely your best option for your criminal case.
  • Deal with the warrant. It can be tempting to just ignore a warrant, especially if no move to arrest you has been made or if you are difficult to track down. However, this puts your VA benefits at risk. Use the legal resources at your disposal to deal with the warrant.
  • Make use of the Health Care for Re-Entry Veterans Services and ResourcesIf you have to spend time in jail because of your criminal action, the VA offers the Health Care for Re-entry Veterans Services program that is designed to prepare you for your release, so you can return to a normal life, job, and home. 
In addition to these action steps, consider contacting the following organizations for legal help:

Help with Discharge Upgrades

The status a veteran is discharged under has a direct impact on his or her veteran’s benefits, and sometimes a veteran who is discharged other-than-honorable, bad conduct, or dishonorable, which denies benefits, may feel that the discharge status is unfair. Sometimes, the mental health status of the soldier or the overall environment of war can lead to a poor discharge status, even though the military member worked hard to fulfill his or her duties. Upgrading military discharge status can open the door to all of the benefits offered to veterans, including burial benefits, life insurance, pension plans, healthcare, disability compensation, education assistance programs, home loans, and more. It can also restore the honor of serving your country well.
 
However, getting discharge status upgraded is not easy. If you are considering this, here are the steps you need to take:
  • Retain an attorney, if possible. Remember, discharge upgrades are not easy, so look for legal help. There are pro  bono and affordable options through organizations dedicated to veteran support.
  • Complete an Application for Review of Discharge from the Armed Services of the United States. Be thorough in filling out this application, outlining all of the reasons why an upgrade makes sense for you. If you do not list an issue on the      application, the board will not review that issue. This is where a lawyer can be of tremendous help. You must complete this process within 15 years of the date of your discharge.
  • Request military and medical records from the National Archives website. These will help serve as proof for your application. This is particularly important if a medical or mental health condition was the cause of your discharge status, such as posttraumatic stress disorder.
  • Get a doctor’s opinion. A properly worded medical opinion supporting your claim from your doctor will be important to having your claim approved.
  • Ask for a Discharge Review Board Hearing. You can ask for a hearing when you submit your application, or you can wait to see if the application is denied, and then ask for the hearing. Representing yourself at a hearing in person can improve the chances of having your application approved.
 
In addition to these action steps, consider contacting the following organizations that provide legal service for fighting military discharges:

Legal Help For Veterans Is Growing

Today, veterans have more opportunities than ever before to get legal help. If you are a veteran who is struggling financially because of one of these common legal concerns, there are options out there, and many of them cost nothing to access. Take the time to understand your rights and pursue your options, and then contact a veteran’s assistance organization for help. You may also be able to get help and veteran’s services from one of these organizations:

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