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Legal Partnership Covers Wide Range in Helping ND Veterans


Tuesday, April 26, 2022   

Low-income veterans in North Dakota, at risk of being unhoused, have options to turn to if a legal issue stands in their way, including a new partnership to help navigate situations in or out of the courtroom.

Legal Services of North Dakota has a new initiative with the Community Action Partnership of North Dakota (CAP-ND), which allows the two agencies to work closely with a client in need of resolving a legal matter, so they can secure or maintain housing.

Gale Coleman, director of compliance for Legal Services, said something like child-support payments might involve assisting an individual through court proceedings, but she said it goes beyond that.

"How do I get my Social Security card? How do I get my birth certificate?" Coleman outlined. "Those are all things that we may be able to help with, depending on the situation."

Another request might be help accessing military discharge paperwork. Members of both organizations say for veterans suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or substance abuse, navigating such challenges can be overwhelming.

As for court settings, Coleman said it is intimidating for almost anyone, and those who have served face unique challenges if they are dealing with lingering effects post-deployment.

The partnership is funded through a Department of Veterans Affairs grant.

Diana Bjerke, programs manager for veterans housing and employment at Fargo VA Health Care System, said efforts like the program are critical in the broader effort to provide housing. She added separate programs can intervene before a problem grows into a legal nightmare.

"Someone who has PTSD, maybe got a DUI and came onto our radar," Bjerke suggested. "Instead of them ending up with a DUI, we can offer them treatment. We can offer them lots of things in lieu of incarceration, and help that veteran get stabilized in the community."

Bjerke added collectively, the initiatives help push North Dakota closer to "Functional Zero" status for homelessness among Veterans.

Coleman noted the stability arising from the partnership with CAP-ND can help ensure an individual's progress is not derailed.

"It's things that may not take a long time to do," Coleman acknowledged. "But it is a very important part of how to get that goal taken care of, of being able to get them transportation, and so on and so forth."

Disclosure: Legal Services of North Dakota contributes to our fund for reporting on Health Issues, Livable Wages/Working Families, Native American Issues, and Senior Issues. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.

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