This Veterans Day, Nov. 11, 2011, our nation will pay tribute to the countless men and women who have put their lives in harm’s way to protect our liberty and security. As lawyers, committed to the highest ideals of the profession, it is not enough that we merely reflect on this sacrifice, but observe the words of President John F. Kennedy: "We must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter the words [of gratitude], but to live by them.”
Our nation is at a critical juncture where tens of thousands of combat veterans will be returning home from their service. Unfortunately, too many of those who answered the call of duty find themselves unable to access needed services or lack the resources to hire a lawyer. Our assistance is required to set right this wrong. On behalf of the American Bar Association, I urge you answer this call.
I am proud that many of our members are organizing efforts to address the legal issues that veterans typically contend with, including challenges obtaining medical care, disability benefits, re-employment, consumer needs, housing, criminal justice issues and family law matters.
Notably, the ABA Commission on Homelessness and Poverty partnered with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Veterans Affairs to launch a national pro bono project providing critical legal assistance to our country's more than 100,000 homeless veterans. This initiative is cited as Signature Initiative #1 in the Administration's plan to end homelessness.
The ABA Commission on Law and Aging has provided four capacity-building mini-grants to nonprofits and bar associations to recruit attorneys to provide veterans with pro bono legal assistance. This effort has allowed us to develop VA-accredited video training materials and webinars on veterans’ benefits.
The ABA Section of Administrative Law & Regulatory Practice's Veterans Committee works alongside important groups like the National Veterans Legal Services Program and the Department of Veterans Affairs on efforts to improve administrative procedures in the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims (CAVC). Current efforts are aimed at methods to streamline the appeals process, eliminate lengthy delays in decision-making, and reduce the number of remands to the Board. Under consideration are proposals for expanding the jurisdiction of the CAVC to provide for de novo review of fact finding by the Board and the Federal Circuit, and to provide class action authority for the CAVC.
Our Young Lawyers Division has launched Project Salute: Young Lawyers Serving Veterans. The 2011-2012 public service initiative will feature legal clinics throughout the country helping to educate veterans on their legal rights and assist them in obtaining benefits. Visit the website at ambar.org/yldservingveterans for more information about how to get involved.
These ABA programs, along with a number of important state and local bar association efforts, are only effective with the strong commitment of volunteers. We ask that you consider giving your time to aid veterans. I commend to you our Coordinating Committee on Veterans Benefits and Services web portal that provides an entry point for attorneys seeking program information and volunteer activities, or send an email to email@example.com. For a list of programs you can volunteer for in your area, view the Directory of Pro Bono Veterans Resources.
Finally, the ABA is planning to host a Leadership Summit on Veterans Advocacy at a future Annual Meeting to provide a forum to learn more about best practices for serving the legal needs of veterans. This will also present an opportunity for ABA members to get involved and to give back to those who have given so much.
I encourage you to answer the call to help a grateful nation show its appreciation in action — not just words — and honor the sacrifices that countless men and women have made to preserve our liberty.
Wm. T. (Bill) Robinson III
American Bar Association