CHEYENNE – Legal Aid of Wyoming is testing a pilot program in Laramie County to provide military veterans access to free legal assistance, no matter their income level.
Currently, Legal Aid of Wyoming restricts its services to Wyomingites whose income is at or below 200% of the federal poverty level. But the new program being tested in the county would provide in-person legal assistance for any veteran without any income qualifier, said Raymond Macchia, executive director of Legal Aid.
The program is a collaboration between several organizations, including Legal Aid of Wyoming, Equal Justice Wyoming and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
“We want the veterans to know that their service is valued, and we do appreciate everything they’ve done for us and our country,” Macchia said. “This is a military town, and we think it’s important for us to reach out to those people who have served our country and to say thank you. And if there’s something you need, to let us know.”
Veterans across the state, regardless of income, can access legal aid over a hotline run by the Wyoming State Bar Association. But for those veterans who need in-person assistance, Legal Aid of Wyoming in Laramie County will not be checking income levels before proving services.
Macchia said those services could range from helping create and update a will to filing for a divorce. But it could also be something like helping a veteran file an appeal of their discharge status, which could lead to a significant increase in benefits available for them in their civilian life.
There are many veterans who leave the service with a less-than-honorable discharge due to issues like addiction or struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder. That status keeps them from receiving benefits like counseling and other services, Macchia said.
“If we’re able to adjust that and get them a higher rating, then they can get services, they can seek help for their treatment,” he said.
Many veterans don’t know the types of services available to them, especially legal assistance, said Phil Galloway, president of the Cheyenne chapter of the Fleet Reserve Association.
“A lot of veterans are not aware of the specific aid for veterans, whether it’s the ability to get a discharge upgrade or their disability rights,” Galloway said. “There’s any number of things that affect veterans. They affect everybody in those low-income areas, but a lot of times I don’t think veterans are aware that there are people that can handle these specific types of problems.”
Galloway sits on the veterans committee that’s worked to help create this program. He said it was important to make sure veterans are aware of not only the ability to seek legal assistance, but also the different ways legal assistance can help them access the benefits they earned with their service.
“While we were in the service, we covered each others’ back. Military members help military members,” Galloway said. “Now it’s time that if they need help as a veteran, and they don’t know where to get it, we can help each other out again.”
Macchia said one major area where Legal Aid could assist is in housing for veterans. There are plenty of resources in Laramie County for veterans struggling with homelessness, he said, and there shouldn’t be one single veteran without a roof over their head.
“That should be corrected immediately,” he said.
Along with providing services during business hours, Legal Aid is hosting a Veterans Law Night from 6-8 p.m. June 13 at the Cheyenne VA.
For more information on veterans services, visit the website at www.lawyoming.org or contact Legal Aid of Wyoming at 307-432-0807 or toll-free at 877-432-9955.