I am very pleased to be assuming the position of Chair of the Standing Committee on Legal Assistance for Military Personnel at the start of this 2014–15 bar year. Having already served as a member of the Standing Committee, I am grateful to be moving into my new role following on the tremendous accomplishments of my predecessor, Dave Ehrhart, and the members of the committee in recent years. My connection to the LAMP Committee runs the length of my military career, and so it has been of great interest to me to see the how far the committee has come in recent years to support the legal needs of not only our current military personnel and their families, but also now to our retirees and even those family members providing caregiving services to our disabled veterans. I look forward to the opportunity to continue the committee's forward momentum in these areas, and I commend General Ehrhart and the current and past members of the committee for their achievements. Additionally, I would like to recognize ABA staff counsel Jason Vail, Pro Bono Projects Director Mary Meixner, and support staff Kathleen Hughes and Vickie Shea for ALL that they do to contribute to the committee's work.
As I begin the first of the next three years leading the LAMP Committee, I would like to take the opportunity to set out what I see as our roadmap and the three key areas where I'd like to see the committee focus in the coming years: sustaining the legal assistance mission, identifying and filling gaps in new areas where we are uniquely positioned to address legal needs, and continuing collaborations with similarly focused local, state, and national programs. These areas fall squarely within our committee mandate which provides us jurisdiction over matters relating to legal assistance for military personnel and their family members and directs us broadly to engage in:
- fostering the continued growth of the military legal assistance programs;
- promoting the delivery of legal services to military personnel and their family members for their personal legal affairs;
- advocating for policies improving access to legal services and civil legal protections for military personnel; and
- maintaining liaison relationships with military and military–related entities enhance the scope, quality and delivery of free or affordable legal services to eligible legal assistance clients.
With respect to sustaining our legal assistance mission, we will continue to provide direct support to the lawyers, both active–duty and civilian, who are engaged in the delivery of legal assistance services to military personnel around the world. We do this by sponsoring and presenting twice–a–year CLE programs to provide free continuing legal education to military attorneys on the latest legal assistance topics. We also produce educational publications on areas of the law handled by these attorneys, notably on the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act and our latest book on how to address common scams, frauds and bad deals perpetrated on servicemembers by unscrupulous businesses. We routinely advocate for improvements to civil laws affecting servicemembers, often providing guidance and testimony to policymakers based on direct input from those on the frontlines of legal assistance delivery. And we will continue to provide a means by which military attorneys can obtain pro bono representation for their clients through our Military Pro Bono Project, as well as attorney–to–attorney consultation resources through our Operation StandBy list.
It has become apparent in recent years, as the demands for legal services have grown in the face of demobilizations and retirements by our military personnel, that there are areas in which there exist gaps in legal service delivery and where our experience and expertise can be brought to bear. One example is our brand new Veterans' Claims Assistance Project (VCAN), which we launched this past August. While many attorneys have been involved in representing veterans in appeals of their VA benefits matters for a number of years, attorneys have not traditionally been involved in the front end of the claims process in assisting vets with assembling their initial claims packages for the VA. Though Veterans Service Organizations have for years provided these services to veterans, a significant percentage of vets submit their applications without any expert assistance, often resulting in their claims being backlogged for months, and even years, as the VA struggles to keep up with a huge wave of applications. Seeing a role for lawyers to provide additional support in this area, we worked with the VA to create the Veterans' Claims Assistance Network (VCAN) as a way to engage lawyers and their skills in helping vets assemble their medical and documentary evidence supporting their disability claims. We will continue to look for ways, much like VCAN, where we can deliver constructive help and programming that will fill areas of need and—most importantly—that will supplement, rather than duplicate, existing services.
Finally, we will continue a trend of recent years in focusing on collaboration with entities and organizations with a focus similar to ours as a way of multiplying our respective strengths and assets. For example, this October we will be holding our traditional full–day CLE and business meeting within the ABA General Practice, Solo and Small Firm Fall Conference in San Antonio. This will provide us the opportunity to collaborate with the GPSolo Military Law Committee, as well as educate GPSolo's members about our legal issues while similarly familiarizing our committee with the GPSolo's programs. Further, our CLE program will be cosponsored by the State Bar of Texas Military and Veterans Law Section, with whom we are collaborating on CLE programming and will be meeting as a part of our business meeting. This is just the latest example of in a string of activities that we began in 2010, involving everything from annual roundtable events with state bar military committees around the country to directly working with the Military Officers Association of America on projects such as the Tips for Lifelong Caregiving website. We look forward to continuing these collaborations and I welcome readers to contact me with your ideas on how the LAMP Committee can work more effectively with you.
Simply put, since 1982 when I began my career as a legal assistance attorney at Fort Bragg, LAMP saved me, and importantly my clients, time and time again. In my day, it was Mark Sullivan and so many others connected with LAMP who came to our rescue. Over my 31+ years of service, that support was always there and LAMP has—and I assure you will—continue to maximize the outcomes for our Nation's most deserving: those members past and present of our military and the families who have given so much so they may serve. Thanks for giving me the opportunity to give back.