Military veterans in Northeast Florida who need help with a civil legal matter, but can't afford to hire an attorney, have a new opportunity to be represented by counsel.
Jacksonville Area Legal Aid cut the ribbon Tuesday morning to open its Veterans Legal Services office Downtown at 126 W. Adams St.
The office is connected to the new, statewide Florida Veterans Legal Helpline that is operated with a budget appropriated through the Florida Department of Veterans Affairs.
Jim Kowalski, JALA president and CEO, said the effort to fund the statewide program is the first money approved for civil legal aid by the state Legislature.
Florida has not until this initiative budgeted money for legal help to low-income residents, other than those facing criminal charges, he said.
Development of the program began two years ago and was made possible by the efforts of JALA, along with Bay Area Legal Services in Tampa and other legal aid firms, the state Department of Veterans Affairs, United Way, state Rep. Travis Cummings and state Sen. Rob Bradley, Kowalski said.
Bradley said veterans represent a special category of residents, based on the sacrifices they make in order to serve.
“We have an obligation to make sure they have the care that they need, the advice that they need, the direction they need and the resources they need,” Bradley said.
Jacksonville's role in the project will be coordinated by Declan Duffy, a former 4th Circuit assistant state attorney and Army veteran who served in Iraq with the 101st Airborne Division.
“I look forward to helping the veterans in our community and being a resource for other organizations with the goal of helping veterans,” Duffy said.
For information about civil legal assistance available to veterans in Florida, visit floridavets.org or call the helpline at (866) 486-6161.