Nonprofit to provide free legal services for Valley veterans

Veterans in the Rio Grande Valley have until Wednesday at midnight to sign up for pro bono legal services this Friday.

Metroplex Veterans Legal Services, a Dallas-based nonprofit, offers legal services to veterans with troubled records. In the four-and-a-half years since it was founded, the nonprofit has set up scores of mobile legal clinics in cities across the state, but Friday will be the first time it comes to the Valley.

Joan Gillham, founder and director of MVLS, said many have reached out and asked for these services locally. Less densely populated areas are often the most underserved, she said.

“We get requests all the time, asking to bring the clinics to specific areas,” she said. “Areas that may be considered rural have a greater need for veterans’ services. … In the Valley, there are few large law firms … so that’s another part of the decision to offer up the clinic in the Valley — the need and the lack of these resources.”

Ultimately, MVLS’ primary goal is to help veterans get to a position where they can gain employment.

According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, post-traumatic stress disorder — or PTSD — effects between 11 to 20 percent of veterans from Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom, and about 12 percent of veterans who served in the Gulf War.

Trouble adjusting to civilian life can result in substance abuse, which can in turn lead to legal issues that often make it difficult for some veterans to find employment.

That in turn leads to high rates of homelessness among veterans, Gillham said. Over half of the veterans MVLS has served reported having been homeless or were currently homeless.

“The unmet legal needs of veterans are one of the root causes of homelessness,” said Former Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki in an MVLS news release. “Working with partners in law schools and the legal community, we can improve the lives of these vulnerable veterans.”

The Hidalgo County Bar Association will be providing volunteer attorneys for the legal clinic on Friday.

The clinic will be held at 1 p.m. at Goodwill Industries of South Texas Inc., located at 3502 S. I-69C, Edinburg. To register, visit before midnight Wednesday.