As military veterans’ legal needs mount, MBA members take advantage of free Pro Bono Veterans Training program

Issue November 2007 By Kate O’Toole and Jennifer Rosinski

Forty-seven attorneys from a variety of cities and areas of practice attended the Massachusetts Bar Association’s daylong training session on Sept. 27 that aimed to teach attorneys how to offer free legal aid to veterans. The program was offered by the MBA and U.S. Trust, Bank of America Private Wealth Management.

Access to benefits and struggles with post-combat medical care are issues that have plagued veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan for many months. On Oct. 16, President Bush held a press conference to present the findings of a presidentially appointed commission studying ways to streamline and improve medical care for veterans.

“Our system for managing this care has fallen behind,” Bush was quoted as saying. “It’s an antiquated system; it’s an outdated system that needs to be changed.”

Just two days later, the Institute of Medicine released a study sponsored by the Department of Veterans Affairs on the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder. The institute characterized PTSD as “the most commonly diagnosed service-related mental disorder among military personnel returning from Iraq and Afghanistan,” and went on to note that “around 12.6 percent of personnel who fought in Iraq and 6.2 percent who were in Afghanistan have experienced PTSD.”

With more troops returning from the Middle East and transitioning into civilian life each day, these issues will continue to arise in the daily lives of veterans and their families.

“Historically, Americans have looked toward the legal profession to set what’s wrong right,” said MBA President-elect Edward W. McIntyre, a Clinton attorney and Vietnam War veteran. “And we can do that again in this case, with veterans.”

Ronald B. Abrams, joint executive director, and Louis J. George, staff attorney, of the National Veterans Legal Services Program in Washington, D.C., led the Sept. 27 training session, titled “Serving Our Veterans in the Law: Pro Bono Training for Attorneys.”

The free program received encouraging responses from attendees, the public and the media. An editorial in the Oct. 1 issue of the Boston Herald said, “Too often, military veterans are forced to function in an informational vacuum ― unaware of available services and of their rights. The MBA is taking a valuable first step to change that.”

With the obvious need for legal services for veterans, the MBA looks forward to further developing its veterans-related initiatives. The Public and Community Services Department recently held a Dial-A-Lawyer program exclusively dedicated to veterans’ issues on Oct. 25 in which more than 20 attorneys participated.

Early next year, the MBA also plans to organize a visiting lawyer program that will send attorneys to city and town veterans service offices for the day.

Look for more coverage of the MBA’s veterans initiative in upcoming issues of Lawyers Journal and Lawyers e-Journal.