November 17, 2017

ABA signs agreement with VA, veterans legal services groups to improve access to free legal services

The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, the American Bar Association, the Veterans Consortium Pro Bono Program and the National Law School Veterans Clinic Consortium have signed a Memorandum of Agreement aimed at improving veterans’ access to free legal services.

Holly Cook, associate executive director of the ABA, signs the Memorandum of Agreement on improving veterans access to free legal services on Nov. 13 at the Department of Veterans Affairs. Also shown from the left are Jim Byrne, VA general counsel; Mary Ann Gilleece, chair and director, The Veterans Consortium Pro Bono Program; and Dr. Edwin Olson, National Law School Veterans Clinic Consortium

The VA hosts more than 165 free legal clinics in its VA Medical Centers, clinics and veterans’ centers across the country, which partner with legal aid organizations, law school clinics and local bar associations to provide pro bono legal services.

Jim Byrne, general counsel of the VA, called the agreement a “force multiplier” and said it represented “our shared commitment to increase legal services to veterans.”

Holly Cook, associate executive director of the ABA, said the association has been providing legal services for active-duty military members nationwide for more than 10 years, and more recently has been working to provide legal support for veterans with its Veterans Legal Services Initiative.

Cook highlighted two efforts: The relaunch of the ABA Veterans Claims Assistance Network (VCAN) to engage lawyers in helping veterans assemble their medical and documentary evidence supporting their disability claims, and thus increase the chances that their claims will be dealt with expeditiously. In addition, the ABA has partnered with the Jones Day law firm to develop a project called VetLex, a web-based platform that matches attorneys who can provide pro bono legal services with veterans in need of such services. Launched this past Veterans Day in the first pilot state of Illinois, VetLex will be rolled out in subsequent pilot states in the coming months, with the goal of reaching nationwide coverage in 2018.

“We know lawyers can make a difference” in the lives of veterans, she said.