PORTLAND — A website designed to be the nation’s leading resource for the legal needs and rights of military families,Statesidelegal.org, is up and running thanks to the work of Maine’s largest legal aid provider.

Portland-based Pine Tree Legal Assistance was the lead agency in the creation of the site, which was officially launched in November during a conference at the White House.

The site serves as an online hub for legal information — including videos, self-help tools and other resources — specifically for military personnel, veterans and their families. Topics addressed on the site range from foreclosure to disability benefits.

Legal experts say many military families are not aware of their unique rights or how to access help for civil legal needs. Information is searchable by legal problem, military status and state of residence.

“It is incredibly gratifying for all of us at Pine Tree, and for the folks in Maine that have helped with the project,” said Nan Heald, Pine Tree’s longtime executive director. “We know that people from all over the country are looking at it, and in fact from all over the world.”

Through the end of January, the site had received about 60,000 page views and 10,000 unique visitors. Those visitors include people from all 50 states and 68 countries worldwide, including 14 visitors from Iraq.

“One of the reasons this project is important to me is because so many of my classmates growing up in Rangeley went into the military, a reality reflected in the statistic that Maine ranks third in the nation in the percentage of its population that are veterans,” Heald said.

“Pine Tree doesn’t have the resources to provide individual help to everyone who needs it, so statesidelegal.org is a way to make legal help more accessible to my friends and neighbors from home.”

To build the site, Pine Tree received a $300,000 grant from the Legal Services Corp. in Washington, D.C. Legal Services is a nonprofit corporation, created and funded by Congress, whose sole mission is to help poor Americans gain equal access to the civil justice system.

William Russo of the office of general counsel at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, learned about the website from the White House press conference in November. Russo has spread the word about the site, and he believes it will help veterans improve the quality of their lives.

“The content of the site is excellent and very useful for veterans and for VA employees,” Russo said. “In particular it allows the VA employees who are assisting veterans to help them obtain legal services.

“In terms of legal assistance, I’m not aware of any comparable resource,” he said.

Brunswick resident Robert Nelson, who was assistant secretary of the Army under President Carter, was among the volunteer advisers who helped develop the website. Nelson, a lawyer who is now retired, also was the first general counsel for Paralyzed Veterans of America.

Nelson said he has been an advocate for veterans’ rights — particularly in the area of home foreclosure — since moving to Maine about 15 years ago.

“We find that a lot of veterans don’t know what their rights are. That’s a problem,” Nelson said. He hopes statesidelegal.org will help as many veterans as possible.

“For what they have done, they have earned something,” he said.

Staff Writer Trevor Maxwell can be contacted at 791-6451 or at: [email protected]