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After the Bar

Public Service

The Florida Bar Is Helping Veterans and You Can Too

Christopher Vallandingham

The Florida Bar Is Helping Veterans and You Can Too

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The Florida Bar Military and Veterans Affairs Committee (Committee) has two primary missions:

  1. to gather and disseminate information, share expertise, and advise Florida Bar members on legal matters that arise from the practice of military law; 
  2. to address problems unique to the representation of service members and veterans of all military branches.

The first mission requires that Committee members keep abreast of recent court decisions and statutory, regulatory, and policy changes that might impact service members and veterans in Florida. The second mission requires the Committee to determine what the needs of veterans and service members are, which includes directly contacting them. The Committee needs your help to execute these missions, presenting opportunities for you to develop your legal research, drafting, and client services skills.

Mission One

Submit an article on military law and legal issues affecting veterans to the Florida Bar Journal and help pave the way for future Committee initiatives by addressing topics such as pro bono legal assistance. For example, one recent initiative resulted in the addition of Rule 21-4.1 to the Rules Regulating the Florida Bar. This rule permits spouses who are licensed to practice law in a different state to practice law in Florida while their military spouses are stationed here. Attorneys can work from information that different organizations have already compiled and analyzed, conduct additional research, and devise the best way of disseminating relevant information to other practitioners across the nation.

Mission Two

Hone your client development skills through direct contact with service members and veterans. The Committee needs help with determining what the needs of service members and veterans are. The needs of a nonagenarian who once trudged through mangrove swamps with the First Marine Division during the Battle of Guadalcanal are likely different than those of an E-7 in the US Army’s Fifth Special Forces Group, who just returned from his fifth deployment in the last 10 years. While certain issues are reoccurring, each person’s story is unique. The Committee is currently exploring how to make it easier for veterans to reach out to the Florida Bar for assistance. Online information that may appear perfectly clear to an attorney may not be clear to a layperson. Personal contact, whether by email, by phone, or in person, with a service member or veteran provides an opportunity to hear the person’s story and discern how we might help him or her. We need help fielding these questions.

We also need help in reaching out to service members and veterans to inform them of the resources available to address their specific legal needs. There are more than one million veterans in Florida, and military installations range from Pensacola to Key West. Groups, such as the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the American Legion, Disabled American Veterans, the 101st Airborne Division Association, and the Association of Former Intelligence Officers, are full of veterans. Rather than wait for service members or veterans to come to us, an attorney can contact them and take one of the following actions:

  1. refer the person to a legal aid clinic that has an attorney who specializes in VA benefit denials;
  2. refer the person to an attorney who is willing, on a pro bono basis, to help guide the person through the process of upgrading the person’s military characterization of service;
  3. simply take 10 minutes to show the person how to request copies of service-related medical records.

You do not have to be a Committee member to become involved. We are always looking for new ways to assist service members and veterans. If you have an idea you would like to share or would like to help with an existing project, please contact one of the Committee leaders.