Veterans' legal needs were the focus of a November 4 event sponsored by the Virginia Bar Association (VBA) and hosted in the Richmond offices of McGuireWoods.
The event celebrated Va. Governor Robert J. McDonnell's Proclamation declaring November 2010 as Veterans Legal Services Month. The gathering also highlighted the VBA Veterans Initiative, which seeks to educate the state's attorneys about veterans' legal needs and to enlist attorneys to assist them on a pro bono or reduced fee basis. The initiative also encourages law firms to sponsor fundraisers to benefit William & Mary Law School's Lewis B. Puller, Jr. Veterans Benefits Clinic.
VBA President Stephen D. Busch said that the association wanted to direct funds to the clinic "to help [faculty and students] with the fine work that they are doing."
Va. Lieutenant Governor William T. Bolling and Va. Commissioner of Veterans Services Paul E. Galanti were among the event's speakers.
Bolling said he wanted "to salute the VSB and all of you who are here today who are lawyers and have agreed to give of your time, of your talent, and of your energy to participate in the [VBA Veterans Initiative]. ... It is important that we serve those who served us and nowhere is that more true than when it comes to the 800,000 veterans who make Virginia their home." He noted that Virginia's First Lady, Maureen McDonnell, had planned to speak, but was unable to do so due to the death earlier that week of the Governor's father, a World War II veteran.
Governor McDonnell's goal is to make Virginia the most "veteran friendly" state in the nation, Galanti said. Before reading the Governor's Proclamation, he noted that Virginia ranks second among states in the number of veterans per capita.
Speakers also included Robert J. Barrett, an attorney at Infilco Degremont Inc. and member of the VBA Veterans Issues Task Force; Jeffrey T. Bozman, a second-year law student and Research Assistant at William & Mary Law School's Lewis B. Puller, Jr. Veterans Benefits Clinic; Davison M. Douglas, Dean of William & Mary Law School and member of the VBA Board of Governors; Matthew A. Kapinos, an Associate at McGuireWoods and member of the VBA Veterans Issues Task Force; Maj. General John P. McLaren, Jr., Commanding General of the Army Reserve's 80th Training Command; Col. Edward J. McNelis III, State Judge Advocate General for the Virginia National Guard; and James V. Meath, Partner at Williams Mullen, past VBA President, and Chair of the VBA Veterans Issues Task Force.
William & Mary Law School Dean Douglas said that the event marked "a great day for veterans in the Commonwealth. Everyone in this room, whether we are lawyers or not, are united around one purpose: serving those who have served us." He added that he was delighted by the VBA's efforts to support the Law School's Lewis B. Puller, Jr. Veterans Benefits Clinic, and thanked the law firm of McGuireWoods, "which has really stepped up [to support the VBA Veterans Initiative]."
In the clinic's first two years of operation, he said, it already has helped about 150 veterans and was able to offer them a range of services, thanks to a unique partnership between the Law School and Virginia Commonwealth University's Center for Psychological Services and Development.
Jeffrey Bozman, a second-year law student at William & Mary who has first-hand experience serving veterans through the Law School's clinic, thanked members of the audience for their "willingness to reach out and help veterans. As a Marine myself, I am personally and professionally grateful." Veterans, he said, "as those who have served in uniform understand, are not likely to beg for help. There is a mentality ... that you 'soldier on' ... don't complain. When veterans take that mentality into the civilian world, often they do so to the detriment of their own health, or, in some cases, to the detriment of their legal claims. What the clinic at William & Mary can do is reach out and make sure that those veterans know that they have an ally who can help them - they have somebody who understands the process, and who cares about their situation."
Maj. General McLaren expressed the Army Reserve's appreciation for the VBA Veterans Initiative. Prior to his current position, he served as the Commander of the Iraqi Assistance Group at Multinational Corps - Iraq. He lauded the initiative as an "outstanding first step in support of reserve component soldiers ... It helps us help soldiers. It takes one more thing that they have to worry about off their plates [when they return from deployment]. Thank you very much for what you are doing. Every soldier ... appreciates this great initiative."
Col. McNelis , a 1989 graduate of the Law School, serves as the Va. National Guard's State Judge Advocate and also is a Partner at Rawls & McNelis. He said that he was proud as a member of the bar that so many attorneys already have volunteered through the VBA to assist veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan who are in need of outside counsel. Prior to the initiative, he said, "we really did not have a good resource to send our [soldiers] to for legal services that [the Judge Advocate General's Corps] could not provide ... that has changed. We are now able to direct them to attorneys who we know are not only competent to handle the issues, but who are going to assist them either pro bono or for a reduced rate." He added that many veterans are in rural areas that are distant from northern Virginia, Richmond, and the state's Tidewater region, and he hoped that attorneys in those rural areas would also lend their efforts to the initiative
The Lewis B. Puller, Jr. Veterans Benefits Clinic at William & Mary Law School accepted its first clients in January 2009. Law students working under the supervision of Adjunct Law Professors and former Army JAG officers Stacey-Rae Simcox and Mark D. Matthews help veterans with their claims for benefits, while Dr. Leticia Flores and students at VCU's Center for Psychological Services and Development provide assessment, counseling and referrals to veterans in need of those services.
The clinic's work has been made possible, in part, by the support of the Jessie Ball duPont Fund and members of William & Mary Law School Class of 1974.
If you are interested in volunteering for the VBA Veterans Initiative or want to support the clinic, email [[veterans, the clinic]] or call (757)221-7443.