To honor veterans and raise awareness of their legal issues, The Virginia Bar Association and its Veterans Issues Task Force will hold an event Nov. 12, 2013, at the Virginia War Memorial on Belvidere Street in Richmond. Registration begins at 7:45 a.m. and the welcome and remarks begin at 8:15 a.m. This will be the fourth annual Veterans Legal Services Month event for legal professionals to honor veterans.
The invited special guest is Bill Haneke (photo at left), 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 goal this year is to sign up 200 more attorneys to represent veterans on a pro bono basis.
Volunteer assistance may take several forms: 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, to name a few.
The 2012 campaign ran from Oct. 2 through Veterans Day. The needs of veterans, however, did not diminish on that date. VBA members can sign up online to provide their expertise by clicking the Volunteer Now button at right.
Progress with the initiative
In 2011, Gov. Bob McDonnell helped launch the VBA campaign for Veterans Legal Services Month. Virginia's governor, whose oldest daughter completed an Army tour of duty in Iraq, 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.”
Of Virginia veterans, some of whom have answered the call to serve in war zones multiple times, McDonnell said, “They are American heroes, offering life and limb for the cause of our country. We need to treat veterans well.”
The VBA Veterans Issues Task Force recruited additional Virginia attorneys to participate in the Veterans Pro Bono Volunteer List, building on the 100 volunteers who signed up to provide pro bono or reduced-fee legal assistance in 2010, the initial year of the project.
In addition to promoting awareness of veterans' legal issues and needs, the task force collected nearly $19,000 in donations for Helping Military Veterans through Higher Education (or HMVHE). HMVHE is a consortium of at least a dozen Virginia colleges and universities across the state that are coordinating their schools' resources to assist Virginia's veterans and military service members with their legal, medical, and veteran benefits needs.
In 2010-2011, more than 30 veterans requested legal assistance through this website. Some cases came from 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 these veterans, but also on their families.
In 2010, 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.
The VBA remains dedicated to the highest ideals of the profession through advocacy and volunteer service. At the Association'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 a volunteer organizing effort and a fundraising campaign in November 2010, during Veterans Legal Services Month. Campaigns followed in 2011 and 2012.
Lawyers have volunteered to provide advice in bankruptcy, commercial litigation, construction, consumer issues, criminal law, domestic relations, education law, employment, business law, general civil litigation, health care, immigration, intellectual property, juvenile law, landlord-tenant, personal injury, real estate, social security, taxation, veterans disability claims, and wills, trusts and estates.
"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."
-- Clare O.
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.
Watch a moving video about the lives touched (6:48).
Leading the VBA effort
In 2011, the Veterans Issues Task Force is being 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.
They hope to model fundraising efforts for the veterans initiative after the highly successful Legal Food Frenzy approach that encourages competition among legal offices in Virginia.