We Felt Like We Were Drowning in a Sea of Goodwill

As recently as just a few years ago, that was a common refrain heard among Illinois veterans facing legal issues. While our veterans and military personnel generally knew there were a lot of lawyers and others who wanted to help them, there was no easy way to make those connections.

At the same time, there was no central mechanism to coordinate the work of the pro bono and legal aid organizations, law school clinics, and other programs around the state dedicated to helping those who have served our country. Similarly, lawyers who wanted to volunteer lacked an efficient way to connect to those opportunities.

The CBF saw these gaps as an opportunity, and proposed the creation of a central legal hotline as the hub of a coordinated network of pro bono and legal aid resources for veterans and military families. By working with the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Access to Justice, several legislative champions, and other partners, this innovative idea became one of the central pieces of the Access to Justice Act. The Act, originally passed by the Illinois General Assembly in 2013 and later amended in 2015 to establish the network in its current form, created a dedicated funding source and the architecture for what is now the Illinois Armed Forces Legal Aid Network (IL-AFLAN).

In Illinois, there are approximately 750,000 veterans, 20,000 active service members, and 13,000 members of the Illinois National Guard. Access to legal assistance can play a critical role in their stability and wellbeing. For example, according to a recent study by the U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs, legal needs make up four of the top ten most pressing needs facing homeless veterans.

IL-AFLAN formally launched in the fall of 2017 as the first program of its kind in the country, and in its first year of service helped more than 2,600 veterans and military families. The statewide legal hotline for IL-AFLAN is run by CARPLS, where veterans and military families anywhere in the state can get free legal advice and brief assistance. A network of nine other pro bono and legal aid programs and several other affiliates provides legal representation in appropriate cases.

IL-AFLAN already is considered a national model to serve the legal needs of veterans and military families. As we salute those who have served our country so bravely and ably this Veterans Day, you can help spread the word about this great new program and learn more about how you can help by checking out the new IL-AFLAN website.