2013 AmeriCorps Legal Fellow Rebecca Miller is currently serving low-income veterans at Levitt & Quinn Family Law Center in Los Angeles, California. Equal Justice Works recently interviewed Rebecca to learn about her efforts to support former military service members and their families. The conversation below highlights some of her achievements to help close the justice gap for veteran communities.
Right: AmeriCorps Legal Fellow Rebecca Miller (’13), at the Levitt & Quinn office, reviews paperwork with a client to sign and file with the court.
Q: What type of veterans are you serving in the community?
The target population of my project is low-income veterans. To date, I have served over 130 veterans since I began my fellowship. Over half of my clients are either homeless or at risk of homelessness.
Q: What victories have you accomplished on behalf of your clients during your fellowship?
I have two clients who stand out. One client is Paul*, a veteran of the United States Army. He has one adult child, for whom child support orders were made in 1991. Paul owed over $25,000 in arrears and was unaware that he could modify his child support orders during various times when he was unemployed. Paul began a part-time job after recovering from a heart attack. Eventually, half of Paul’s paycheck was taken out to go toward his child support arrears. This left him without enough money to pay his rent, putting him at risk of eviction. Paul was referred to Levitt & Quinn by the Minnesota Assistance Council for Veterans (MACV), a veteran service organization near where he resides in Minnesota. Paul could not afford a trip to California to resolve his issue in person or find someone who would represent him over the phone. I received the opportunity to represent Paul at a court hearing, with Paul appearing for his case via conference call. My efforts helped Paul acquire a payment plan that allowed him to meet his monthly expenses and stay in his home, while making payments on his child support arrears.
Another client is Jim*, a veteran of the United States Army. He had a default judgment entered against him in his divorce case, which limited him to supervised visitation with his son. However, I found that relief was not requested in the divorce petition and there was no basis for supervised visits. Using this evidence, I helped remove Jim’s order for supervised visitation during his court hearing. Jim was elated that he could spend more quality time with his son.
*Names changed to protect privacy of veteran clients.
Q: What was the personal inspiration for your project as an AmeriCorps Legal Fellow?
I went into law school wanting to practice some form of public interest law. During my internships, I became drawn to family law and providing assistance to low-income individuals. I also got connected with organizations that were providing services to veterans. I discovered a gap in the family law services available to veterans. The CHALENG Report demonstrates that legal assistance for child support issues and legal assistance to help restore a driver’s license are two of the top 10 unmet needs for homeless veterans. These are the reasons why I became motivated to serve as a fellow and help address veterans’ unmet needs.
Q: How did the AmeriCorps Legal Fellowship and host site support your work?
Through the AmeriCorps Legal Fellowship, I have received the necessary resources and training to provide direct legal services to veterans with family law issues, ranging from child support to child custody to domestic violence. Levitt & Quinn Family Law Centerhas two attorneys with experience working with homeless veterans, and my full-time fellowship gave them the opportunity to expand the scope of veterans’ services. Under the supervision of these two attorneys, I have gained a better understanding of identifying legal barriers when serving the veteran community. Their support has enabled me to provide high-quality legal services to low-income veterans.
Q: How did you implement your project to make sure low-income veterans receive adequate benefits and services?
Throughout my fellowship, I did a lot of community outreach to help veterans become aware of their rights and available resources such as legal, housing, and mental health services. As part of the outreach, I conduct clinics at transitional housing facilities for low-income veterans. Additionally, I provide direct legal services to veterans, ranging from counsel and paperwork preparation to representation in Court. The California Law Review reported that 60-90% of family law cases involve at least one person representing the client. With my fellowship, I have the chance to make a big impact, giving veterans someone to stand beside them and protect their interests.
Q: What advice would you give to future AmeriCorps Legal Fellows pursing public interest work?
Be ready for the challenges that may arise from the more trivial obstacles, such as missed appointments or losing track of clients, to the more difficult challenges of helping someone through what may be one of the most difficult or emotional experiences they have faced. However, for every hard case, there is also the reward of walking away knowing you have truly made a difference.