The ABA and MOAA: A Partnership to Support the Caregivers of the Military Wounded
With the military conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan of the past decade, the Standing Committee on Legal Assistance for Military Personnel (LAMP) has, in recent years, expanded the scope of its focus and work to support military attorneys not only through education and policy development—as it has traditionally done—but also by delivering programs that directly reach these attorneys' military family clients. In 2008 the LAMP Committee launched the ABA Military Pro Bono Project, which provides military attorneys the ability to quickly and efficiently connect their clients with pro bono representation provided by a national network of lawyers who volunteer to take up servicemember cases requiring civil legal assistance beyond the scope of what the military attorneys can provide. In 2011 the LAMP Committee worked with the ABA Section of Family Law to assume management of the Section's Operation Stand By, which for years has been the go–to resource for military attorneys seeking advice and consultation with civilian family law practitioners on matters of state law and local procedure. By incorporating this program into the Military Pro Bono Project, LAMP was able to both grow the list of participating civilian attorney participants as well as expand into coverage of all areas of civil law available for consultation. Also 2011, the LAMP Committee collaborated with a number of ABA entities to create ABA Home Front, an online legal resource center for military families, which provides easy–to–understand legal information on a variety of topics of relevance to servicemembers and veterans, as well as a national directory of programs and organizations providing free and reduced–cost civil legal services.
This year the LAMP Committee has taken an additional step to extend legal assistance to another important population in the military and veteran community facing legal difficulties: the caregivers of wounded and disabled veterans. In partnership with the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA), the LAMP Committee is creating an online library of legal resources that specifically targets the unique informational needs of what is estimated to be between 275,000 to more than 1.1 million Americans who are providing caregiving services to their family members who were injured in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
In looking at this growing group of caregivers, a recent RAND Corporation study determined that the typical caregiver is a woman, about 38 years old, with young children and who faces years—or decades—of caring for her wounded husband. These caregivers can spend up to 80 hours a week to assist their veterans with basic living and medical needs, made difficult by physical, and often mental and emotional, damage. This extremely difficult and stressful work can take a toll, and may result in lost wages, a job, or even health insurance for the caregiver. Overall, the study determined that caregivers frequently lack support and information to aid them in navigating all of the complex medical, financial, and legal problems that can arise, as well as the governmental bureaucracies with which they must be involved.
In an effort to directly address the support and informational needs of this community, MOAA recently received a Dole Foundation Innovation Grant to create a program called "Tips for Lifelong Caregiving," which will be an online guide aimed at assisting caregivers of wounded, ill and injured servicemembers with financial, legal and other issues affecting their lives and well–being.
"We are honored to receive this grant to help us deliver much–needed support to the selfless caregivers who are sacrificing so much of their own lives to care for our wounded, ill and injured heroes," MOAA President Vice Admiral (ret.) Norb Ryan, Jr., said. "In addition to information collected from six years conducting symposia and roundtable discussions, we are working with the caregivers themselves to craft a guide that builds on the lessons they've learned to ease the path for others."
MOAA approached the ABA to join in partnership to develop the legal information section of the new Guide. (Other national partners have joined to support additional aspects of the site; for example, USAA will develop the financial information portion, and Google will provide digital support services.) MOAA will provide the labor, project management and hosting support to develop and implement the online guide. The tool will be available to the public and will augment existing programs sponsored by the Dole Foundation, Department of Defense, Veterans Administration, the ABA, and other agencies and individuals supporting caregivers.
In response to MOAA's call for partnership, LAMP Committee, working directly with the Division for Public Education and seeking consultation from other ABA entities such as the Coordinating Committee on Veterans Benefits and Services and the Section of Real Property, Trust and Estate Law, has generated extensive content in a range of legal issues confronting caregivers. This content will populate a new "Wounded Veteran Caregiver" section on the ABA Home Front website as well as appearing on MOAA's "Tips for Lifelong Caregiving" site. The LAMP Committee participated in two roundtable events sponsored by MOAA, where actual caregivers discussed the particular legal challenges they face in caring for their wounded warriors. Through this collaborative process, LAMP was able to ensure that the focus of the legal content was directly responsive to the real needs of the caregiver community. Topics covered in the LAMP materials are:
- Credit and Bankruptcy
- Family Medical Leave Act
- Guardianship and the VA Fiduciary Program
- Tax Issues
- Powers of Attorney
- Servicemembers Civil Relief Act
- Wills and Trusts
- Family Law Matters
The content created by LAMP both provide legal information that addresses the concerns and issues of caregivers as well as give direction to obtain in–person legal help from a range of legal providers, including military legal assistance, pro bono and reduced–fee programs, and state and local bar–sponsored military assistance initiatives. "In partnering with MOAA, our goal is to deliver the best, most comprehensive legal information and support to caregivers through both ABA and MOAA web–based platforms," said Brigadier General (ret.) David Ehrhart, chair of the LAMP Committee. "Not only do we want to ensure that they are equipped with resources that will help them in their critically important work, but we also want them to know that they are not alone in their struggles, and that organizations like the ABA and MOAA stand ready to help them and their veterans in the years and decades to come."