Pockets of Need
Meeting Veterans' Legal Needs
The Virginia Bar Association veterans initiative recruits lawyer-volunteers and provides military veterans and service members with greater access to legal assistance. More than 100 veterans and families have been helped.
Several hundred attorneys have joined the Veterans Pro Bono Volunteer List, many of whom have donated their time and skills in handling cases, often involving family law, for this large segment of Virginia’s population. The result can be as deeply satisfying for you as it is for current volunteers Joelle Laszlo and Mark Villapando.
Virginia and Veterans
Leading the Veterans Issues Task Force
Lawyers Robert Barrett of Degremont Technologies and Matthew Kapinos of McGuireWoods LLP head up the veterans initiative. Both graduated from West Point. They also served as combat veterans in Iraq and Afghanistan. For their enthusiasm, loyalty and dedication to the VBA and the VBA Young Lawyers Division, they received the Emerson G. Spies Award in 2011.
History and Educational Programs
The veterans initiative began with a program at a VBA statewide meeting in January 2009. The VBA Committee on Special Issues of National & State Importance presented “A Nation in Debt: Our Obligations to Service Members Returning from Combat – Iraq, Afghanistan and Beyond.” The session spotlighted legal problems Virginians commonly face upon their return from overseas military duty. It also looked at governmental assistance.
The Veterans Issues Task Force and other VBA groups have coordinated additional educational programs. Two are listed on the VBA Online CLE catalog, available for download and MCLE credits:
"From the beginning of our involvement with the Veterans Benefits Clinic, our family's stress has decreased and since the VBC was able to get my husband permanent disability from the military, any worry over benefits will no longer be an issue. There is no way to explain how important this is to us. We are a young family who without the aid of the VBC would have had to rely solely on any income and benefits I could attain."
U.S. Army Maj. Uthlaut was part of a panel titled "Lawyers Helping Warriors: Our Obligations to Servicemembers Returning from Combat" at the 2011 VBA Summer Meeting.
A moving video about the lives touched (6:48).
To honor veterans and raise awareness of their legal issues, The Virginia Bar Association and its Veterans Issues Task Force hosted an event Nov. 12, 2013, at the Virginia War Memorial on Belvidere Street in Richmond. This was the fourth annual Veterans Legal Services Month event for legal professionals to honor veterans.
The special guest speaker was Bill Haneke, a decorated Vietnam War veteran, celebrated author and noted veterans advocate. Haneke has been featured in many news articles and is part of The Hero Project of The Daily Beast.
The VBA continues to hear from attorneys interested in joining the VBA's Veterans Pro Bono Volunteer List so that they can represent veterans on a free or reduced-cost basis or help in other ways.
Read about current volunteers Joelle Laszlo and Mark Villapando, who feel a deep sense of personal satisfaction and professional development from representing veterans.
Attorneys answering call to assist
In 2012, the VBA partnered with Army OneSource to provide military veterans and service members with greater access to legal assistance. Then-VBA President Hugh Fain encouraged members to consider joining this effort to support our military.
Volunteer assistance can take several forms, including: initial intake interviews, one-on-one counsel, speaking at Yellow Ribbon or similar events, mentoring other attorneys, providing pro bono or low-cost assistance, and supervising law students in legal clinics.
Progress with the initiative
In 2011, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell helped launch the VBA campaign for Veterans Legal Services Month. Mentioning that his oldest daughter completed an Army tour of duty in Iraq, McDonnell called the VBA’s effort “a critically important initiative." To the large audience Nov. 4 at McGuireWoods LLP in Richmond, McDonnell added, "We are grateful that the VBA would take this on as a pro bono opportunity. Keep up the good work.”
In 2011, the VBA Veterans Issues Task Force also collected nearly $19,000 in donations to assist Helping Military Veterans through Higher Education. HMVHE is a consortium of Virginia colleges and universities that coordinates school resources to assist Virginia's veterans and military service members with their legal, medical, and veteran benefits needs.
Some veterans assisted through the VBA program participated in the Wounded Warrior Programs at Fort Belvoir and Fort Eustis. These programs support veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan who were wounded in combat and are being medically separated from the service. Many of these service members have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or traumatic brain injuries (TBI). Returning from combat is difficult enough, but returning with these and other life-altering injuries creates unbelievable stress not only on the veterans, but also on their families.
In its initial year, the task force raised more than $25,000 to support the Veterans Benefits Clinic at the William & Mary Law School. Those contributions enabled law students to assist more than 300 veterans and their families and for the clinic to carry an active caseload of more than 40 files. Many of those cases involved filing claims and appealing adverse decisions for disability compensation with the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Since 2010, this initiative has compiled a volunteer roster of more than 250 attorneys. Since December 2011 when these volunteers started handling veterans' cases, they have responded to 65 requests for assistance.
At the VBA's Annual Meeting in January 2009, the VBA Committee on Special Issues of National & State Importance presented a program on "A Nation in Debt: Our Obligations to Servicemembers Returning From Combat—Iraq, Afghanistan and Beyond." The session shined a spotlight on the legal problems Virginians commonly face upon their return from overseas military duty and the lack of governmental assistance.
That led to the volunteer organizing effort and the 2010 fundraising campaign during Veterans Legal Services Month. Since 2009, the task force has presented several programs about the legal issues veterans face at VBA meetings.
Leading the VBA effort
The Veterans Issues Task Force is led by Bob Barrett (Degremont Technologies) and Matt Kapinos (McGuireWoods LLP), both of whom graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point and are combat veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. They received the Emerson G. Spies Award at the VBA's Annual Meeting in 2011 for their enthusiasm, loyalty and dedication to the VBA and VBA's Young Lawyers Division.