Lawyers Journal

Serving our veterans in the law: Pro bono training offered for attorneys

Attorneys will learn how to help veterans navigate the legal system and deal with appeals of federal and state benefits at a free, daylong training offered by the Massachusetts Bar Association this month that will be taught by national veterans’ advocates.

Ronald B. Abrams, joint executive director, and Louis J. George, staff attorney, of the National Veterans Legal Services Program in Washington, D.C., will lead the training, “Serving Our Veterans in the Law: Pro Bono Training for Attorneys.” It will be held from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 27, at the MBA offices at 20 West St. Lawrence Feeney, general counsel to the Massachusetts Department of Veterans’ Services, will also be on hand. Lunch will be provided.

“The National Veterans Legal Services Program applauds attorneys who will provide pro bono services to the heroes who have defended our freedom and who are today suffering from illness or injury as a result of their service,” said Abrams, who also sits on the executive board of the Veterans Consortium Pro Bono Program in Washington, D.C. “NVLSP will do all it can to support these volunteer attorneys who are helping those who put their lives at risk for their country.”

Abrams and George will outline legal issues faced by veterans and explain the process of appealing benefits at both the state and federal level. A DVD of the training will be available for those who cannot attend. Abrams has conducted more than 100 training sessions across the country, including several for state bar associations and the American Bar Association.

“As the leading voice for the legal community in Massachusetts, we have a special role and responsibility to serve our community,” MBA Executive Director Marilyn J. Wellington said. “Serving our veterans with legal services – that are so necessary to their quality of life – provides a meaningful opportunity for our members who are eager to give back to those who have served our country with such honor.”

Attorneys can use the skills learned at the training to help veterans in several ways. The MBA will launch a special Dial-A-Lawyer program for veterans in October, followed by a visiting lawyer program that will send attorneys to city and town veterans’ service offices for the day.
These pro bono opportunities for attorneys will fill a gap in services for veterans and meet a growing need, Feeney said. Veterans often need help in the areas of housing and employment, as well as medical and child care.

“This is really a step forward. These guys – and gals – can’t afford to pay and they need the help. Right now, the help doesn’t exist. It would be very difficult to find pro bono services for veterans. Overall, across the state, the services are just not there,” Feeney said. “This could be a huge help in getting veterans’ lives in order. We’re really excited about it.”

This new program comes on the heels of a report by the Institute for Defense Analysis that concluded veteran benefits are inequitable, often varying by state, and a study by the Pentagon that reveals nearly half of all National Guard members report physiological conditions after returning home.

MBA President-elect Edward W. McIntyre, a Vietnam War veteran, said he presented the idea to the MBA after being approached by members from across the state who suggested that veterans be the focus of pro bono initiatives. McIntyre served with the 173rd Airborne Brigade from 1968 to 1971, spending more than a year in Vietnam.

“I do think that veterans are generally neglected. We acknowledge Veterans Day, we acknowledge Memorial Day, but I think most Americans rely on the Veterans Administration and military to take care of the veterans,” McIntyre said. “What we’ve learned is the people we thought were taking care of our veterans really are not.”

This new MBA initiative makes sense because firms across the nation are now adding veterans to their internal pro bono offerings, McIntyre said.

“Historically, Americans have looked toward the legal profession to set what’s wrong right,” he said. “And we can do that again in this case, with veterans.”

Space is limited. To register for a training session, call Member Services at (617) 338-0530 or toll-free at (877) 676-6500.

©2014 Massachusetts Bar Association