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Legal Help for Returning Wisconsin Veterans

Returning veterans often have unique legal needs, and the UW's Veterans Law Center can help. (KatarzynaBialasiewicz/
Returning veterans often have unique legal needs, and the UW's Veterans Law Center can help. (KatarzynaBialasiewicz/
August 10, 2016

MADISON, Wis. - Veterans coming home from overseas wars face challenges in adapting to life as a civilian, and many of those challenges involve legal questions. That's why the UW Law School opened the Veterans Law Center in 2012. Today, at the Appleton Public Library, the Center has a mobile unit staffed with attorneys, paralegals, and volunteers to help veterans with their legal questions.

The director of the Center, Laura Smythe, said soldiers used to working with clear objectives and a clear chain of command often find it hard to deal with the workplace, where often the tasks are fluid and it's not really clear who's actually in charge.

"We see that they're really struggling with learning how not to be in control of it as much as they possibly can, in an uncontrollable environment, and suddenly they're back in a place where the structure is much less clear," she said.

She said the idea to take the Veterans Law Center on the road came from the number of calls they had from veterans who didn't have a way to get to Madison.

Smythe hopes today's first foray into taking the Center on the road will be successful, and lead to more trips to cities all around the state. She said they chose the Appleton Public Library for a reason.

"The number one question libraries get at their information desk is about legal services, and that's true throughout the state," she added. "So, I wanted to go to a place where people already were looking for help. They're typically trusted resources, and they're typically on bus lines."

Smythe said the most frequent legal questions are about landlord-tenant issues, divorce, and bankruptcy, which Smythe said is sort of a culmination of all the issues vets face. She said it's often difficult for a 25-year-old soldier, who is used to giving and following orders and who commands great fire-power, to adjust to a totally different kind of life.

"A percentage of our population who returns often from service to a population that unlike the days of post-World War Two, they're just aren't a lot of veterans," she said. "The general population doesn't understand frequently the unique stressors, the barriers that are common."

Tim Morrissey, Public News Service - WI