PORTLAND – Pine Tree Legal Assistance is beefing up its efforts to help military service members, veterans and their families in Maine by providing user-friendly legal information pertinent to them.

A $24,000 grant from the Maine Community Foundation will help the organization develop material about Maine-specific laws. State-specific laws come into play in areas like divorce and guardianship and there are particular state benefits such as admission to the Maine Veterans’ Homes.

“It is really confusing and many people don’t know they’re protected by law because of their status with the military,” said Helen Meyer, a development associate with the organization.

Pine Tree Legal sees the effort as a way to improve veterans’ access to legal protections unique to them. The organization has seen a growing need for legal assistance among families with a military connection.

Its limited resources mean Pine Tree Legal can provide assistance to only about 20 percent of all the individuals who seek services from it. These types of self-help tools are a way to stretch resources and assist those who can advocate for themselves.

The information about Maine laws will be distributed in pamphlet form and will be posted on the organization’s website, www.ptla.org. It will also be linked to statesidelegal.org, a national clearinghouse of legal information for military families. Pine Tree Legal was the lead agency in the creation of the site.

Statesidelegal.org is meant to help users find answers to common legal problems and link them to other resources. The site contains legal information written at a high school reading level on areas including taxes, estate planning, employment, housing and health.

Since its launch in November 2010, statesidelegal.org has had 190,770 page views. Forty-seven percent of the users find the site through search engines, which Pine Tree Legal interprets as an indication that people are looking for this type of information.

No website has translated Maine laws in the same way, according to Pine Tree Legal. The organization expects to begin work on the Maine-specific material as soon as this month.

Pine Tree Legal plans to create at least 12 user-friendly explanations about Maine laws. The topics are expected to include guardianship and child custody during deployment, re-employment or unemployment compensation after deployment and emergency financial assistance for veterans.

The project is funded by the Tibor and Anna Doby Veteran Support Fund at the Maine Community Foundation. The Dobys were refugees from the 1956 Hungarian Revolution who were granted asylum in the United States, where they developed their interest in the well-being of American soldiers.

The fund supports programs that benefit veterans and their families in rural areas of the state.

Pine Tree is based in Portland but the project fit into that category because its Internet component reaches people in rural parts of Maine, said Jennifer Southard, the Maine Community Foundation’s director of philanthropic services.

While some organizations provide assistance in areas like Veterans Administration benefits and legal issues related to deployment, there isn’t that sort of help available for other matters, Southard said.

Staff Writer Ann S. Kim can be contacted at 791-6383 or at:

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