From the Chair...
Standing Committee on Legal Assistance
for Military Personnel
Over the course of the last year, our LAMP Committee's ABA staff — Jason Vail (Committee Counsel) and Mary Meixner (Military Pro Bono Project Director) — have been working diligently to build our latest initiative, the ABA Veterans' Claims Assistance Network (VCAN). This project, which I wrote about in my column last fall, is patterned after our highly successful Military Pro Bono Project and is designed to connect veterans having disability compensation claims pending in the VA backlog with pro bono attorneys who will assist the vets in completing those claims for expedited rating by the VA. The goal of this new project is to engage lawyers in supporting the VA's efforts to eliminate its claims backlog by working to ensure that our veterans receive the benefits to which they are entitled in a timely fashion.
The new project is being conducted as a partnership between the ABA and VA, so integrating our own tried–and–true pro bono referral processes with the VA's systems has proven to be a significant challenge. Our ABA staff has spent the past months working through these technical issues and has designed a highly efficient process that will effectively move veterans and their casefiles from the VA's backlog to ready–and–willing volunteer attorneys, for whom training and expert support will be provided while the attorneys work up the veterans' case for submission to the VA in a "ready to rate" status. We are very excited to bring this system online this summer and begin placing cases with volunteer attorneys who will have a unique opportunity to make a very real difference in the lives of veterans who have been waiting months — and sometimes years — to receive their VA benefits. More information about getting involved in this new project is available at www.ABAVCAN.org.
As we undertake this new initiative, the LAMP Committee is well aware that VCAN's success — like the success of the Military Pro Bono Project — is entirely dependent upon the commitment of the attorneys who step up to provide pro bono services, as well as upon the support of funders who keep these programs operational. Since we launched the Military Pro Bono Project in 2008, our volunteers and funders have allowed us to deliver pro bono assistance to over 1,000 military members facing legal issues in nearly every state. Each military member connected with a volunteer attorney through the Project receives an average of about $5,500 worth of donated legal services from the Project's volunteers. Their cases involve a variety of civil legal areas, including family law, consumer law, landlord–tenant matters, probate, and others. For example, the Project has connected military families with attorneys who have helped with legal issues affecting financial well–being, such as fraudulent car sales, wrongful termination of tenancy, and potential home foreclosures. It has secured help for military members with family issues, including child custody matters, divorces involving domestic violence, and guardianship issues. For those who have made ultimate sacrifices, the Project has located volunteer attorneys to help with probate matters for families of those killed in overseas conflicts.
The LAMP Committee gives special thanks to the volunteers through the annual ABA Military Pro Bono Project Outstanding Services Award, which recognizes individual attorneys and law firms that have provided extraordinary pro bono services through the Project. These awards are provided to law firms that accept five or more cases through the Project during a calendar year, along with individual attorneys who accept three or more pro bono cases through the Project during a calendar year or report spending 50 hours or more on a Project case. At the beginning of this year, the Award was provided to one law firm, one law school, and 30 individual attorneys in 11 different states who met these standards in 2013. The recipients can be viewed on the Project's website.
In addition to its volunteer attorneys, the Project depends on charitable donations from Project partners, law firms, corporations, foundations, and private individuals. Contributions from its current and future financial supporters ensures that the Project can maintain its staffing and continue to be a national leader in helping meet the civil legal needs of our military personnel and their families.
The Project was initially created as a pilot program with seed money for two years. After those two years, the Project has depended on charitable contributions — through the ABA Fund for Justice and Education (FJE), a 501(c)(3) entity — provided by the following: ABA Business Law Section; ABA Section of Litigation; ABA Section of Public Contract Law; AM General LLC; BAE Systems Inc.; Bechtel National Inc.; Cozen O'Connor; Crowe & Dunlevy; General Dynamics Corporation; Lockheed Martin Corporation; Mr. Ronald Marmer; Mr. and Mrs. David C. Merjan; Rockwell Collins; Raytheon Company; Science Applications International Corp (SAIC); Teledyne Technologies; Troutman Sanders LLP; Vinson & Elkins LLP; and other individuals. You can find the most recent financial supporters on the Project's website, and we are deeply grateful for their contributions — without them, we would not be able to do the work we do.
Clearly we have received enormous support, in terms of both dollars and hours donated, to deliver on our mission to support the civil legal needs of military families. For the past three years it has been my pleasure to see this commitment grow, while the Committee has found new and innovative ways to fill legal service gaps faced by our current and former military personnel.
As I come to the end of my three–year term as Chair, I have been honored to work with some of the most dedicated, caring people I have ever known. From the Committee members, to ABA staff, to volunteers their contributions have been impressive and underscore their service–before–self culture. I want to specifically thank our Senior Attorney/Chief Counsel for Legal Services, Jason Vail. Jason has not only expertly and efficiently run the Committee, but he has also forged us ahead into new areas, significantly expanding our ability to help more military members and their families. He made all of this look seamless to the LAMP Committee even though he was also managing two other ABA committees. Right with Jason is our staff attorney, Mary Meixner, who has been the real force behind the ABA Pro Bono Project, spending countless hours (many on her own dime) connecting military families in need with the right volunteer attorney. She has also been part of every other activity in which the LAMP Committee has been engaged. Further, my great thanks extends to the ABA staff who work so effectively behind the scenes to make the LAMP Committee successful: Kathleen Hughes and Vickie Shea. Of course, our sincere appreciation goes to the person who makes this all possible, the boss, Terry Brooks, Legal Services Division Director.
Finally, I'm extremely pleased to pass the reins to Major General (Ret) Butch Tate in August. Butch has been leading successful organizations for his entire career, and I know the LAMP Committee is in great hands!