VA Pro Bono Programs: What You Can Do for Your Country

Vol. 23 No. 3

By

Seth Rosner is chair of the Senior Lawyers Division.

Friends, it is appropriate that I am writing this at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of the year, Veterans Day, a day that I remember very well from my childhood, when we knew it as Armistice Day, the day the big guns fell silent on the “Western Front” to signal the end of what we then called The Great War. Twenty-five years later, it would be called the First World War, a conflict that, up to that time, resulted in the greatest carnage in human history. The Allies (“Entente”) suffered 5.8 million military deaths, 12 million wounded, and over 3 million civilian deaths due to famine, disease, and military action “collateral damage.” The Central Powers (Germany, Austria-Hungary, and the Ottoman Empire) suffered 4 million military deaths and 8.4 million wounded, with over 3 million civilian dead. Nearly 14 percent of the entire population of the Ottoman Empire perished in this war, including over a million killed during the Armenian Genocide. It would be impossible today to imagine losses like these had they not been surpassed by the ultimate carnage of the Second World War.

I recall Mom and Dad taking my brother and me “downtown” in New Rochelle, New York, for the traditional Armistice Day Parade, when contingents of soldiers and sailors marched down Main Street to North Avenue, accompanied by veterans in American Legion caps and high school bands. Veterans of “The War” walked among crowds on the sidewalks, selling small red poppies for a quarter (two-and-a-half weeks’ worth of my allowance) to go in Dad’s lapel, recalling the red poppies of “Flanders fields” and the bloody battles of Ypres, Passchendaele, and the Somme.

A little background on your chair for this year. Here’s how I got to be a lawyer: my dad was a lawyer and, from the earliest time I can remember, would come home from work in New York City and at our family dinner table would often tell my mom, brother, and me what he had done that day. Quite soon it came to me that my dad’s work was helping people: folks came to him with a problem or some trouble and Dad would fix it for them. By and by, after maybe a year of this, it dawned on me: Wow! What a wonderful way to live your life. You go to college, then to law school, and then you go to work helping people—and they pay you for it! That is literally how and why I decided to be a lawyer.

Something else Mom and Dad beat into my brother and me from early on: they said that getting rich should not be the goal of your lives. If you’ve got a brain and you work hard, you’re entitled to expect to make a good living. But the goal of your lives must be doing good, helping people, and leaving your little corner of the world better when they put you in the ground than you found it when you got here. The result of this early brainwashing is that I grew up thinking of life as a stool with three legs: doing good, having fun, and making money.

There is an article in this issue by Will A. Gunn, general counsel of the Department of Veterans Affairs, on various ways in which you can volunteer to help veterans who desperately need help; there are legal services programs at Veterans Administration facilities and more. Doing so will fulfill the promise of Model Rule 6.1 of the Model Rules of Professional Conduct on voluntary pro bono publico service. I earnestly ask you to read Will’s article, decide this week on the manner in which you will join in this great effort on behalf of men and women who have devoted themselves to protecting us, to their eternal credit and often to their great hurt. I have already signed up as a volunteer with the ABA Military Pro Bono Project (www.militaryprobono.org). And please write to tell me what you have chosen to do. I promise you that participating in it will not make you any money, but ut will make you feel good (that’s the fun part) while doing lots of good. Isn’t that what pro bono is?

You Senior Lawyers Division members, most of whom we do not know or hear from, will make me and our entire leadership very happy and very proud if, six months from now, we can say that 40 percent of the entire SLD membership are participating in one of the Veterans Administration pro bono programs. Again, please volunteer this week and write me to advise that you have done so.

P.S. Though many of you already know, for the record I am a veteran, having served in the Navy for seven years, three-and-a-half on active duty as legal officer and a qualified underway officer of the deck on board the U.S.S. Intrepid, an Atlantic Fleet attack aircraft carrier that is now the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in New York Harbor.

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