From the Chair...
Standing Committee on Legal Assistance
for Military Personnel
The LAMP Committee does not traditionally meet during the ABA Midyear and Annual Meetings, but we always strive to find ways of maintaining a presence during these gatherings of ABA members and leadership. At the most recent 2013 Annual Meeting held last August in San Francisco, I am proud to say that our committee's direct involvement in supporting the legal needs of servicemembers, veterans, and their families, was on display in a very visible and productive way.
At the outset, during the Annual Meeting the ABA House of Delegates approved the LAMP Committee's proposal to amend its charter (Resolution 11–4). Though the proposed changes were minor and technical in nature, LAMP did add one significant passage to its charter, stating that one of the missions of the committee is to "advocate for policies improving access to legal services and civil legal protections for military personnel and their dependents." Though the committee has long been engaged in this work, its heightened level of engagement in this area over the past five years supported by programmatic initiatives such as its Military Pro Bono Project, ABA Home Front, and the latest effort on behalf of veterans called the ABA Veterans' Claims Assistance Network (ABA VCAN, which is described below), the committee determined it to be appropriate that its commitment to expansion of access to justice for military and veterans be explicitly stated in its charter.
This LAMP Committee's commitment in this regard was further borne out during the Annual Meeting through the committee's involvement with the Convocation on the Legal Needs of Military Families and Veterans, which was held on August 10. The Convocation was convened by the ABA Board of Governors Program, Evaluation and Planning Committee, and was cosponsored by LAMP and the Coordinating Committee on Veterans Benefits and Services. The objective of the Convocation was to bring together a cross–section of ABA entities, as well as affiliated organizations, that either are or want to be involved in assisting military and veterans, to share information and resources and to better coordinate going forward. The Convocation succeeded in this respect, with involvement by ABA entities such as the Government and Public Sector Lawyers Division Military Lawyers Coordinating Committee; Solo, Small Firm and General Practice Division's Military Law Committee; Division for Public Education; Real Property, Probate, Trust and Estate Law Section; Health Law Section; Administrative Law Section; Judicial Division, as well as its National Conference of Special Court Judges; Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service; Commission on Homelessness and Poverty; Governmental Affairs; and the FJE Council. Affiliated participants included the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) and the Military Spouse JD Network, as well as attendance by two Judge Advocates General from the Air Force and Coast Guard. As a result of such outstanding participation, the attendees had a very engaging discussion on how the ABA and external partners can better work together to meet the legal needs of military and veterans in a wide array of areas, and left the Convocation with specific plans to move forward in this area.
Of particular note during the Convocation was the keynote address by Will Gunn, the Department of Veterans Affairs General Counsel. He explained that the VA's key goals are to increase access to benefits and services for veterans; to eliminate the backlog in disability claims (by 2015); and to end homelessness among veterans (also by 2015). As a key component of the effort to eliminate the disability claim backlog, Mr. Gunn announced that the VA would be entering into a partnership with both the ABA and the Legal Services Corporation to engage lawyers in assisting veterans pro bono with the development and submission of their disability claim packages. The goal of the project is to ensure that previously unrepresented veterans receive help to submit claims that are fully "ready to rate" and that can receive expedited adjudication, rather than remaining long–term in a case backlog for further development. This new ABA VCAN initiative is projected to launch first within the service areas of the Chicago, IL, and St. Petersburg, FL, VA regional offices, and potentially expand to provide assistance in other areas of the country. Information about the program as well as details on how lawyers and law firms can sign up were provided to Convocation attendees, and more information may be found at http://ambar.org/VCAN. Because the VCAN's function is patterned after the LAMP Committee's highly successful Military Pro Bono Project, LAMP will be a primary leader in the operation of the program. We are happy to be involved in such a significant undertaking with the potential to ensure that many, many veterans receive the benefits to which they are entitled in a far more timely fashion than would otherwise be achieved in the absence of legal assistance.
It is a very exciting time for the LAMP Committee, as we continue to focus on ways—both new and ongoing—to ensure that current and former members of our military, as well as their families, have access to needed legal support and representation. And we are dedicated to continuing to collaborate with those many other entities, represented during the Convocation and elsewhere, that have a similar commitment. I look forward to reporting on our progress and successes in, as our amended charter now states, "improving access to legal services and civil legal protections for military personnel and their dependents" in future columns in Dialogue.