Veterans deserve our gratitude—and our service
By Lisa M. Tatum
In recent years there has been a great deal of coverage on veterans
and the difficulties many of them face. The stories highlight a range
of hurdles from soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with
debilitating physical and mental traumas to reports of disability
claims backlogs at V.A. offices across the country. The Washington
Post, citing Department of Veterans Affairs figures, recently reported
that more than a quarter-million veterans are appealing
disability-claim decisions, and many may wait as long as four years or
longer for a ruling.
Research shows that about 3.4 million of the nation’s 22.6
million veterans have a service-connected disability, and approximately
20 percent returning from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars suffer symptoms
of post-traumatic stress disorder. In Texas alone, which is home to
about 1.7 million veterans, an estimated 16,000 veterans are homeless.
Studies suggest that roughly three-fourths of homeless veterans
experience substance abuse or mental health problems.
Moreover, our veterans also face a number of unique legal issues, such
as obtaining disability benefits, correcting military records, and
navigating the complex laws governing veterans assistance compensation
and pension claims. And not all of them can afford legal assistance,
assuming they know where to turn.
Veterans advocates, journalists, and others have done an admirable job
of making the general public aware of the problems our service men and
women and their families face. Now, as Americans and beneficiaries of
their protection, it is up to us to use our talents and abilities to
assist them in addressing the issues confronting them.
Three years ago, the State Bar of Texas introduced Texas Lawyers for
Texas Veterans to help meet our veterans' growing legal needs. The
program, launched by then-State Bar President Terry Tottenham, who
served in the Marine Corps, helps develop and support pro bono legal
clinics across Texas for military veterans who otherwise cannot afford
or lack access to an attorney.
Since 2010, about 3,000 Texas lawyers have served more than 10,000
veterans through the program, addressing issues such as bankruptcy,
housing, employment, wills and estate planning, and landlord-tenant
disputes. Across Texas, more than 50 local bar associations and legal
organizations host weekly, monthly, biannual, or annual legal advice
clinics for veterans, and legal groups in 23 other states have asked
for and received “clinic in a box” materials.
The results are clear in stories like Severina Wilson’s. A
veteran of World War II and the Korean War, Wilson was nearly evicted
from her Pasadena home this year because of a bank’s escrow
error, according to a report by Houston ABC affiliate KTRK-TV. Her
eviction hearing imminent, Wilson, 91, sought help at the weekly
veterans clinic organized by Houston Volunteer Lawyers Program, a
service of the Houston Bar Association. Lawyers from the clinic attended
her hearing and convinced the judge to delay a ruling. Volunteer
attorneys from a Houston law firm later resolved the case, allowing
Wilson to stay in the home she loved.
Every year on Nov. 11, we pause to observe Veterans Day. If you
are an attorney, this is a perfect time to help a veteran by getting
involved in a legal clinic. To find one in your area, visit texasbar.com/TLTV.
Attorney or not, we can all find a way to express our gratitude. This
Veterans Day, take some time to reflect on how you can serve those who
served our country.
Lisa M. Tatum is president of the State Bar of Texas and the founder
and owner of LM Tatum, PLLC, in San Antonio with a practice that
focuses on corporate, education, employment, and public finance law.
She may be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.