December 19, 2019

Chair's Column: Using Our Unique Gifts To Help Others

By John H McEniry IV, Fagron North America, Fairhope, AL

In looking back over past Chair’s Columns, I am (again) awestruck by the depth and personal insights offered by Alexandria, Hilary, Joyce, Bill, and the many great Chairs before them.  One of my personal favorites, though, is the November 2016 Chair’s Column penned by Joyce Hall.  In My Veteran, Joyce introduces us to her grandfather, who was both a proud veteran and the proud father of a veteran.  Pawpe, as Joyce affectionately called him, possessed the discipline, work ethic, and love of family and country characteristic of the generations who survived two World Wars and the Great Depression.  I would love to have met him.

The stories and lessons conveyed by Joyce bring back familiar and very fond memories of my own grandfather.  He served in the U.S. Marine Corps as a dive-bomber pilot at Guadalcanal in 1942-43 and subsequently as the commanding officer of a squadron in the central Pacific.  Following active military service, he practiced law at our family practice in Bessemer, AL and later wrote a book detailing his time in the South Pacific “with the thought that it would be of some interest to my grandchildren in their later years.”  GraGra, which I affectionately called him (and which was the first “word” I ever spoke as a child), was a towering man, both in physical stature and character.  His discipline, work ethic, and servant’s heart were qualities to which I will always aspire, but will never achieve.

To steal a word from Joyce, GraGra loved his family “fiercely.”  Due to this fierce love and a mentality that his family would never encounter the same struggles that he faced in the early 1930s, GraGra was a driven provider.  We did not have to rely on the VA for medical care.  We could obtain professional assistance whenever we needed it.  When GraGra was stricken with cancer in his later years, we were able to seek the best medical and palliative care.  When I had a hard time processing his death, I was able to see somebody to help me work through it.  In all, my family and I have never really wanted for anything.  I took that comfort for granted as a child and young adult.  In many ways, I still do.

Unfortunately, there are many who do not enjoy the same comforts and opportunities.  Many active and retired service members rely on a perpetually understaffed and underfunded system to serve their medical needs.  They deserve better.  The same can be said for many civilians relying on federal- and state-funded medical care.  Mental health and substance use disorders remain an epidemic for which limited progress is being made, particularly for individuals with limited resources.  Many families facing a cancer diagnosis can barely get their minds or checkbooks around immediately necessary medical treatment, much less planning for the myriad legal issues which surround and follow such life-altering events.  As lawyers, while we can’t use a scalpel or prescribe medications to address these issues, we are nevertheless in a unique position to use our education, experience, abilities, and resources to help individuals and families in need.

As you consider how and where to allocate your time, talents, and treasures in 2020, I invite you to join your colleagues in the Health Law Section to serve the public through the Section’s four Educational/Outreach Interest Groups – Cancer Legal Advocacy, Medical-Legal Partnerships, Military and Veterans Health Law, and Substance Use Disorders & Mental Health.  A short description of each Interest Group’s focus and efforts is set forth below.  Through their passionate and dedicated leaders and members, these Interest Groups are making a substantial difference in communities across the country.  Please join them in making a difference in your own community.

Cancer Legal Advocacy Interest Group (formerly the Breast Cancer Initiatives Interest Group):
The Cancer Legal Advocacy IG provides cancer legal advocacy training to lawyers, resources for lawyers and consumers facing cancer, and education for consumers, attorneys and policymakers on the wide range of legal issues surrounding a diagnosis and treatment of cancer.  The IG’s primary mission is to coordinate training sessions for attorneys and public servants interested in assisting cancer patients who need legal advice related to their diagnosis and treatment.

Medical/Legal Partnerships Interest Group:
The Medical/Legal Partnerships (MLPs) IG develops and supports partnerships between physicians, social services, and attorneys at hospitals and other healthcare facilities to address issues that negatively affect individual health conditions.  The IG provides education, support, resources and assists in connecting volunteers with MLP projects.

Military and Veterans Health Law Interest Group:
The Military and Veterans Health Law IG is designed to lead and implement educational programming focused on protecting the legal rights of our service personnel, veterans, and their families. The IG provides training for attorneys counseling current and retired military regarding the legal issues related to their health care. The IG collaborates with the ABA’s Military Pro Bono Center and Veterans' Claims Assistance Network (VCAN) to provide legal assistance in eight Civil Law areas.

Substance Use Disorders & Mental Health Interest Group:
The Substance Use Disorders and Mental Health IG promotes practices that support prevention, education, treatment, recovery and management of substance use disorders and mental health conditions.  The IG works to expand access to and delivery of healthcare services at the state and federal levels, including the removal of legal barriers to successful addiction and mental health recovery. The IG examines the effects of substance use disorders and mental health conditions on society, the practice of law, and the nature of the American justice system.

In addition, the Health Law Section’s Program Support Fund encourages and supports attorney pro bono activities in communities across the United States.  Through the generous contributions of Section members and others committed to supporting their communities, the Section is able to engage and support attorneys to serve individuals and families in need through the above-described programs.  The Program Support Fund is a 501(c)(3) charitable fund, so a donation is tax-deductible to the fullest extent available under the law. 

Please consider contributing to the Program Support Fund at donate.americanbar.org/healthlaw. 
If you have questions, please contact Health Law Section Associate Director Carol Simmons at carol.simmons@americanbar.org.

I wish you and yours a safe and happy holiday season.

Jay McEniry
Chair