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Jacksonville gets Veterans Legal Services Unit as part of statewide program in Florida

Jacksonville Area Legal Aid President Jim Kowalski (center) speaks before the ribbon cutting of the nonprofit's new Veterans Legal Services Unit, joined by Army veteran and former Assistant State Attorney Declan Duffy (left), who will head it up, and state Sen. Rob Bradley.

DAN SCANLAN, FLORIDA TIMES-UNION/TNS

By THE FLORIDA TIMES-UNION | The Florida Times-Union | Published: November 26, 2019

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (Tribune News Service) — A new resource to help veterans in need of help in civil cases has been mobilized by Jacksonville Area Legal Aid as part of a statewide Florida Veterans Legal Services program.

With funding from Florida's Department of Veterans Affairs, the new Veterans Legal Services Unit hopes to help about 125 veterans through their legal cases each year.

Part of the downtown Legal Aid office at 126 W. Adams St., U.S. Army veteran and former Assistant State Attorney Declan Duffy heads up the Veterans Legal Services Unit. At a ribbon cutting in the three-office suite on the fifth floor, Duffy thanked many for helping get funding for this program.

"We know there is a tremendous need out there," Duffy said. "... I just want to help veterans with legal needs who need help and qualify for the program. If they don't qualify, I hope to be able to find them an attorney locally."

Veterans returning from service face unique issues, and sometimes life is "not working out for various reasons," said state Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Florida, who helped secure funding for the office.

"We have an obligation above and beyond to make sure that they have the care, advice and direction that they need, and the resources, to get their life on track," Bradley said. "That's what this is about right here, just another tool in the tool box."

Studies conducted by the federal Department of Veterans Affairs show veterans face legal issues after they leave their branch of service. Five of the top 10 unmet needs for male homeless veterans require civil legal assistance, while female homeless veterans face four out of their top 10, the agency reported.

A Florida Veterans Legal Helpline at (866) 486-6161 also will give veterans a single point of access for issues relating to housing, family law and child support, driver's license suspensions, disability and veterans' benefits, expungement and more, officials said.

Duffy was injured in 2006 in his second deployment to Iraq after serving with the Army for four years. Receiving an honorable discharge, he earned his law degree from Florida Coastal School of Law, then worked as a prosecutor handling misdemeanor and felony cases in Clay and Duval counties.

Now he said he's ready to assist, and a paralegal is soon to join him with the Legal Aid staff next door if needed.

"This is primarily civil, everything that civil law incorporates except for personal injury," Duffy said. "A lot of what we anticipate the need being will be in family and consumer law, and VA home loan solutions."

Jacksonville Area Legal Aid President Jim Kowalski said civil legal aid organizations all over Florida have always served veterans, so the new Veterans Legal Helpline is an additional resource. In addition to staffing the helpline, Duffy will assist the United Way of Northeast Florida's Mission United project to help military veterans and their families get used to civilian life with services and support.

©2019 The Florida Times-Union (Jacksonville, Fla.)
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