More than 43 years ago Juan Silva, 60, served in the U.S. Army in Korea, but today he is fighting an ongoing battle to gain custody of his grandchildren.
His ally in this struggle is Silvia McLain, executive director of the Seminole County Bar Association Legal Aid Society, who has obtained temporary custody for Silva and his wife and continues to work on their case.
“My wife and I feel like a big weight has been lifted off of our shoulders,” said Silva, whose oldest grandchild is autistic.
Silva’s son is incarcerated, and the mother of his grandchildren is struggling with a drug addiction. Mission United, a veterans’ initiative of United Way, referred Silva to the Legal Aid Society, a Florida Bar Foundation grantee, for legal help.
Through an initiative launched in May in collaboration with the Seminole County Public Library, the organization is working towards reaching more veterans.
The second Thursday of each month, the Legal Aid Society offers a legal advice clinic at the library in Casselberry. Legal aid staff attorneys, along with pro bono attorneys, offer assistance with family and housing law with the goal of improving the self-sufficiency of veterans. Seven veterans attended the first clinic.
An opening ceremony was held May 9 at the Seminole County Public Library to announce the expanded veterans’ legal advice program. U.S. Rep. John Mica presented a flag that had been flown over the U.S. Capitol and a certificate of recognition.
“No one should have more access to our judicial system than our veterans, who served our country,” Mica said.
McLain said the clinic will assist veterans with issues such as child support, eviction, or even veterans’ benefits.
“As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them,” McLain said, quoting President John F. Kennedy. “We don’t want to just utter words of appreciation. We want to live by them and show action.”
For its veterans’ legal services program, which involves 35 local pro bono attorneys, the Seminole County Legal Aid Society received the 2016 L Michael Roffino Pro Bono Service Award from the General Practice, Solo and Small Firm Section of The Florida Bar. The award will be presented during The Florida Bar Annual Convention in June.