February 06, 2018

Progress continues in ABA’s efforts to serve legal needs of veterans

Last year, the ABA Veterans Legal Services Initiative, begun in 2016 under then-ABA President Linda Klein, received funding to continue its works for another year. At the recently held Midyear Meeting in Vancouver the group reported on the progress it is making in a number of areas, including:

Legal clinics for veterans: Antonia Fasanelli, executive director of the Homeless Persons Representation Project in Baltimore, reported that the working group is preparing to start VA Medical Center legal clinics in the following states that do not yet have one: Indiana, Iowa, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Rhode Island and Wyoming.

In addition, the group continues to work on expanding law school clinical programs serving veterans so that there is at least one in every state.

Veterans Treatment Courts: Barry Hawkins, partner at Shipman & Goodwin in Stamford, Conn., reported that his group made a presentation to the program committee of the National Conference of Bar Presidents to have a workshop on Veterans Treatment Courts at the ABA Annual Meeting in Chicago, Aug. 2-7, to encourage state and metro bar leaders to include such courts as part of their presidential initiatives. Although receptive to the idea, Hawkins thinks the presentation will most likely be merged with other ideas for serving veterans.

Technology: Nan Heald, executive director of Pine Tree Legal Assistance in Portland, Maine, reported on the progress of VetLex, a system that links veterans, veteran service organizations and qualified pro bono or low-bono attorneys nationwide. The pilot project is underway in Illinois, with future expansion into Houston and Pittsburgh and potentially in Detroit and/or North Carolina.

The Legal Check-Up for Veterans is up and running, but the group continues to refine the program.

Jason Vail, staff counsel at the ABA Standing Committee on Legal Assistance for Military Personnel, said interested lawyers can sign up for both VetLex and the Veterans Claims Assistance Project (VCAN).

He also discussed the Military and Veterans Legal Center, a mobile-enabled, comprehensive page on the ABA website with links to all the ABA military and veterans programs, which is expected to be available in the coming months.  

Government affairs: Ken Goldsmith of the ABA Government Affairs Office in Washington, D.C., reported that the ABA signed a Memorandum of Agreement in November with the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Veterans Consortium Pro Bono Program and the National Law School Veterans Clinic Consortium that seeks to improve veterans’ access to pro bono legal assistance, including expansion of VA-hosted free legal clinics and medical-legal partnerships.

He also reported that the Senate will be holding a hearing on the Veterans Homeless Prevention Act, which is supported by all the major veterans’ groups.

Goldsmith also discussed the passage of “sweeping reforms” at the VA, which include movement to clear up the backlog of an estimated 400,000 claims.

Fundraising: Linda Klein continues to fundraise, with the goal of raising enough money to make the commission a permanent entity. She welcomes ideas for donor prospects and is happy to travel anywhere to meet with potential donors.

She tweets about the commission’s work using the hashtag #lawyershelpingveterans.