January 01, 2017 Introduction

Serving Our Veterans

By Judge James E. Lockemy
Captain Miller: [weakly mutters something]
Private Ryan: [leans in closer] What, sir?
Captain Miller: James, earn this. . . . Earn it.(Spielberg, S., et. al., 1999, Saving Private Ryan)

These words, uttered by the fictional but symbolic Captain John H. Miller, who was about to join others who had given their lives to save Private James Ryan, a character who represented the people of the United States, remind us that we have an obligation to all those who have given or who are willing to give the last full measure for the precious freedoms enjoyed in this country.

Until recently, efforts to fulfill this obligation have been in the form of applause at patriotic parades or sympathy for those in long lines at Veterans Administration health centers and hospitals. If a veteran had a legal issue that was directly or indirectly related to military service, there was little entitlement to much assistance. Those who had served 20 years and received retirement checks could seek legal advice from an active-duty judge advocate general and even get a free will or power of attorney, but non-retiree veterans were not eligible for even that small benefit.

When I first began practicing law in the 1980s, federal law prohibited an attorney from charging more than $10 to help a veteran regarding disability and other issues before the Veterans Administration. This, of course, did not save the veteran from lawyers who overcharge but ensured that the veteran would not receive legal help except from the very limited resources of volunteer groups.

This special issue of TheJudges’ Journal illustrates how our nation has come to recognize the importance of providing legal services to all those who have sacrificed so much for our nation. From the recognition of the legal ramifications of post-traumatic stress disorder, the unique problem a service member faces who has been activated from the guard and reserve to active duty, to the creation of special courts that consider the serious pressures that may contribute to a veteran’s violating the laws that the veteran was willing to die to keep in place, we examine the sweeping nature of veterans’ legal issues in our country.

These articles cover topics that judges in many areas—criminal and civil trial, domestic, bankruptcy, administrative—see on a regular basis. Some of our readers will no doubt keep this issue in a special place with other reference material for easy use when a veteran alleges the improper charge of interest on a loan, a military spouse seeks alimony, a landlord seeks to oust a tenant serving in uniform in a distant desert or foreign mountain range, or when a veteran appears in criminal court or pursues legal action over the denial of health care.

We are very fortunate to have the outstanding contributions of so many writers who here tell the untold story of the battle after the battle for so many of our heroes. We are especially appreciative of our ABA President Linda Klein, who has made legal services to veterans a central theme of her term. With the tremendously increased activity in our courts of matters involving veterans, her comments about the creation of a specialty in veterans’ law may very well come true in many states.

On a personal note, I am grateful to our author Mark E. Sullivan, my colleague during our tour of duty with the XVIII Airborne Corps at Fort Bragg, for agreeing to produce a cutting-edge article and guide to the Servicemembers’ Civil Relief Act. We are indebted to all the authors who demonstrate so many programs that are designed to assist our military veterans.

Although many legal topics important to those working with veterans are covered in this issue, there are more that could not be produced because of space limitations. Maybe in some future issue we can bring personal stories of judges who have left the bench and answered the call to serve in a hostile area, read more about the battles with the Veterans Administration over disability claims, and read of some of the exploits of judges who served in past conflicts. It would also be interesting to further develop the ethical issue of how judges balance their judicial role and duties as judge advocates, as presented by Marla N. Greenstein.

As I prepared this introduction, Judge Stephanie Domitrovich, one of our editorial board members, sent me an article about several active-retired judges and World War II combat veterans who are still presiding over terms of court. Indeed, I am confident that members of the judiciary in the United States have served faithfully in every conflict in our history and continue to do so today.

When Lieutenant John Marshall was serving at the Battle of Monmouth, he was determined to do his duty to create a new country based on the rule of law. Little did he know that his later decision as chief justice would establish the doctrine of judicial review so important to the freedoms of that country.

Tennessee Circuit Judge Andrew Jackson could not have anticipated that he would be the commander at one of America’s most celebrated victories at New Orleans and later be the nation’s commander in chief. Today, some young captain or private is standing at his or her post, ready to do what is necessary to defend this country. He or she may one day appear (or return) as a judge or counselor in a courtroom of that country to carry out the freedoms that were so ably defended.

Every day, the judiciary and legal profession of the United States, as well as the American Bar Association, adhere to the charge of Captain John H. Miller to protect the liberties that the veterans of this great nation have earned. It is also our duty to make sure that these veterans are included in our pledge to render equal justice for all.