Serving Our Sisters (“S.O.S.”) provides holistic and trauma-informed civil legal services to female veterans and all veteran survivors of military sexual trauma.
In addition to the struggles faced by all veterans, female veterans experience sexual assault, or military sexual trauma (MST), at a significantly higher rate than the general population. Thousands of veterans leave the military with less than honorable discharges due to the behavioral symptoms associated with MST and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). When veterans receive less than honorable discharges, their access to veteran resources is severely limited or completely taken away, which may result in a lack of medical care and homelessness. Many have a difficult time discussing the trauma they experienced with lawyers who are unfamiliar with military culture and the high rates of MST, and many female veterans are not comfortable seeking assistance from the male-dominated VA health system. Finding services that are both veteran-specific and trauma-informed can be difficult. S.O.S. expands Broward County veterans’ access to legal support by providing a safe space that offers holistic legal services.
Fellowship Highlights to Date
In the past twelve months, Brittany:
- Established Serving Our Sisters, Florida’s first legal clinic specifically for female veterans and MST survivors
- Providing full representation to 24 veteran clients, often addressing several legal needs for each client to provide holistic support
- Provided brief services, advice and/or referrals to more than 15 additional veterans in need who did not qualify for full representation
- Acquired income stability for a disabled veteran at risk of becoming homeless
- Assisted multiple gender non-conforming veterans to receive the benefits they struggled to access
- Conducted two virtual presentations, reaching hundreds with information on the project and its services
In the next year, Brittany Anne plans to:
- Develop a comprehensive Broward County veterans’ resources booklet for veterans
- Provide weekly outreach and office hours at the local Vet Center
- Provide training on the unique considerations for veterans who are gender non-conforming and the associated additional impact MST can have
- Provide training on resources available to homeless veterans and veterans at risk of homelessness
Alex worked on the Veterans Legal Corps project, which works to improve the lives of veterans by resolving their unmet legal needs. An annual survey by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs consistently shows that legal needs are among the top unmet needs of homeless and low-income veterans. The project helps to provide legal assistance to many of these low-income and homeless veterans with issues related to health and disability benefits claims, barriers to housing and employment, debt, family law, and other legal issues.
Veterans are often a vulnerable group in the United States. After Vietnam, veterans returned home from a war that was no longer supported. Overshadowed by protests and political controversy, these service-members were ultimately forgotten, which led to high rates of poverty, drug use and homelessness. This work is important to try and help empower these veterans to be successful in their communities.
Alex provided direct representation to low-income and homeless veterans and military families, and also help to train community partners. Additionally, Alex increased outreach to veterans’ organizations, female veterans in particular, homeless centers, and veterans courts, among other groups. Finally, Alex taught classes to veterans and those who support them, so that he could facilitate referrals and identify and help veterans at risk of becoming homeless before it happens.