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Duty to serve veterans

Posted: 7am 01 Oct 2021

A growing need for legal assistance among members of the veteran community and a desire to make a difference has prompted Sarah Smith and her husband Aaron to open a not-for-profit legal service at Clontarf.

Duty First Legal Service opened in early September with Sarah, a solicitor, and principal lawyer Philippa Whitman at the helm

Sarah, whose husband served with the Army in East Timor and Iraq, says conversations with support workers involved with Legacy and veteran friends revealed an unmet need and she knew she could do something about it.

Duty First Legal Service provides general and specialised assistance in most areas of law including legal advice and assistance, court and tribunal representation and community education.

In particular, legal and advocacy services will be provided to veterans in areas of wills, estate and succession planning; family law matters including parenting and property agreements; mental health review tribunal and court representation; traffic and driving offences; DVA and military compensation and rehabilitation claims; mediation and dispute resolution assistance.

Philippa says there is a significant unmet need for services to veterans.

“Brisbane and Moreton Bay Region have the highest concentration of veterans and war widow in all of Australia, which is surprising. This is based on Department of Veterans Affairs figures. As at April 2021, there were 24,000 in those regions who were current clients of the department and 3667 war widows who were clients of the department,” she explains.

“That’s only veterans who are registered with the department. There are a myriad of reasons veteran don’t approach the department and don’t receive the benefits that come from that connection.

“The unmet need was so significant that Sarah and Aaron identified it and are funding this organisation until we’re in a position where we can obtain government funding and donations from the community to continue the service and grow it.”

What the service offers

Philippa says they can provide advice and representation where appropriate, help veterans prepare for tribunals and attend with them if needed, appear in magistrate’s courts through to Supreme Court and make referrals to firms if they are not in a position to provide representation.

“It’s such a broad-based practice. I think that it’s still early days but the idea is, with the experience that we have, that we don’t limit the opportunity to be of assistance because that’s our motivation,” she says.

The service also plans to connect with local law firms to create a network of lawyers who will volunteer their time to assist veterans.

Sarah says they have had a supportive and positive response since opening.

“We’ve had quite a number of referrals from other organisations,” she says.

“Everyone who has come through the door and asked for help has been really grateful to have someone they can ask for help and somewhere they can go.”

To find out more about Duty First Legal Service, make a donation or volunteer your time, visit dutyfirstlegal.com.au, phone 3283 8157 or pop into the office at Shop 1, 70-72 Hornibrook Esp, Clontarf.

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