In the aftermath of war, military service members, veterans and their families can face numerous issues. Besides battling the emotional and physical challenges associated with combat, many veterans face serious legal issues that require the help of an attorney.

While a soldier’s return to civilian life is a celebratory moment, the transition is not always easy. According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, five of the top 10 unmet needs of veterans involve legal issues such as child custody, avoiding homelessness or eviction, handling credit problems or simply restoring a driver’s license.

The magnitude of the problem can be overwhelming. More than 1.5 million veterans in the United States live in poverty. An estimated 12 percent of our nation’s homeless have served in the U.S. military. These individuals do not have the financial resources necessary to pay for an attorney. Yet they cannot move forward with their lives without one.

That’s where legal aid and pro bono attorneys can help. Legal aid organizations provide free legal services to qualifying individuals to help with civil matters including family law cases, landlord/tenant disputes, wills and consumer protection issues — many of the biggest legal challenges faced by veterans when they return home. Many private attorneys volunteer their time and expertise through pro bono programs. In Texas, these efforts make a difference.

This week is Texas Veterans Legal Aid Week. Legal aid organizations, law schools and local bar associations are hosting free legal clinics to help veterans get the help they need. Last year, more than 9,000 Texas veterans received free legal assistance. (More than 1.4 million veterans reside in Texas, making it the second-largest home to veterans in the country.) In Waco, Baylor Law School students assist local attorneys helping veterans at the Heart of Texas Veterans One Stop, 2010 La Salle Avenue, during monthly clinics. They provide services to a veterans population of some 16,000 in McLennan County and many more in surrounding counties. Contact the clinic at 710-4244.

These efforts are part of a larger commitment from the Texas legal community to help those who were prepared to give their lives to preserve our freedom. Over the last year, the Texas legal community has reaffirmed this commitment in several ways. For example, the Texas Access to Justice Foundation, leading funding source for legal aid in Texas, recently established the Joe Jamail Endowment for Veteran Legal Services, a fund that ensures veterans have access to legal help. Since its inception this year, the endowment has raised more than $675,000. So far this year, the Texas Access to Justice Foundation has provided $1.87 million in grants to 14 nonprofit organizations throughout the state to provide free legal services to veterans.

We have an obligation to ensure our veterans are taken care of back home. Please visit the Texas Access to Justice Foundation website ( to make a generous donation in honor of a service member or veteran in your life via the Joe Jamail Endowment for Veteran Legal Services. And if you are a veteran in need of legal assistance, visit

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Chief Justice Nathan L. Hecht has been a member of the Texas Supreme Court since 1988 and is a Navy veteran. Richard Pena is a Vietnam veteran and practicing attorney in Austin. He is a former president of both the American Bar Foundation and the State Bar of Texas. He is co-author of the book “Last Plane Out of Saigon.”

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