Mathew Murray never thought he'd rely on a cane to get around. Nor did he expect to have a legal file this thick.
Matt got the Army bug as a kid and enlisted right out of high school. Six years in the infantry, another seven as a Ranger specializing in Long Range surveillance all over the world.
"I love serving my country. I love serving the American people."
But that service came with a cost: 180 jumps with 160lbs. of gear strapped to you takes a toll. Back pain led to a discharge, and over the next 15 years things continued to get worse.
"Went to the doctor and the doctor was like, you have two serious bulges coming out of the left side of your back, and you're not going to feel your left foot again."
Matt started collecting VA benefits which he didn't fully understand. And in 2014…
"They sent me a letter that said you owe $64,000."
Enter attorney Samantha Adams.
"They didn't explain to him his responsibilities in getting that benefit and what he needed to do to make sure he didn't get overpaid."
Adams helps lead the veteran arm of the Northwest Justice Project. It's a state and federally funded organization with 17 locations around Washington providing free legal help in civil cases to those who can't afford it otherwise.
"We sometimes say that legal aid, civil legal aid, is the safety net to the safety net."
Cesar Torres is the NJP's Executive Director. Over ten years, he's seen the need grow. While many attorneys are on payroll, he relies on lawyers around the state who give their time.
"Do clinics, do consultations, do brief assistance on a volunteer basis to supplement the work, and it's still not enough."
In the veterans arm alone, they've opened 16-hundred cases so far this year.
"There are a lot of veterans that have barriers to employment, housing, and self-sufficiency really."
The NJP gives them a voice.
"And that's a big deal for a lot of our cases; the clients just really want to be heard."
Matt accepted some responsibility and so did the VA, a victory in his eyes. Now he's found a new way to serve... by tracking down other vets in need.
"The only reason she helped me is I had to go in and ask. And that's what these veterans need to do; they need to go ask for help."
Mat's case was kind of unique and it was a bit of a learning curve. In the end, he's paying back about half of that $64,000 which he says he is happy to do. And with that behind him, he is now more focused than ever on showing other low income or even homeless veterans, there are people out there who want to help them.
Copyright 2016 KING