For Veterans Day last year, I volunteered at a legal advice clinic to help veterans in my hometown of Beaumont. More than 30 lawyers assisted about 100 veterans. In chatting with other volunteers, I learned that two of the lawyers – professionals I have known and respected for years – lost their fathers in Vietnam. They were volunteering to honor their fathers, who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country. As we honor all who have served this Veterans Day, let us be mindful of the many men and women, and their families, who have made great sacrifices in duty to our country.
Last year, Terry Tottenham of Austin initiated the State Bar of Texas program, Texas Lawyers for Texas Veterans, while serving as State Bar president. The primary goal of Texas Lawyers for Texas Veterans is to ensure that veterans and their families who otherwise cannot afford legal help have access to legal information and to legal representation through pro bono legal clinics and other resources. I am equally committed to Texas Lawyers for Texas Veterans and to seeing the initiative continue to grow, as it is a program that changes lives.
Many veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are returning from active duty to find themselves out of work, facing a divorce or child custody battle, or having trouble affording a place to live. They may also be facing an uphill climb in obtaining the benefits they have earned and have nowhere else to turn. Veterans from World War II, Korea, or Vietnam may be dealing with their own disability claims — some with decades’ worth of paperwork — or need help with other concerns but are on limited incomes.
In all of these areas, Texas lawyers in diverse practice areas are volunteering their expertise and time through Texas Lawyers for Texas Veterans to assist veterans and their families to get the legal answers and results they need and deserve.
Since the program’s inception, more than 40 local bar associations across the state, many in partnership with legal aid organizations, have established veterans legal clinics. To date, more than 5,000 veterans have received some form of legal assistance at a Texas Lawyers for Texas Veterans clinic, and that number continues to climb. The State Bar has also partnered with the Texas Veterans Commission and other veterans service providers. A weekly veterans legal clinic is held in Houston at the Michael DeBakey VA Hospital, and monthly clinics are well established in Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, and San Antonio. Clinics have also been held in El Paso, Lubbock, Midland-Odessa-Big Spring, Beaumont, Galveston, Bastrop, Temple-Belton-Killeen, Denton, and Hidalgo County, among other locations.
Last November, to commemorate Veterans Day, 20 veterans legal advice clinics were held throughout the state. More than 600 veterans received legal assistance from nearly 300 volunteer attorneys. A similar effort on the part of local bar associations and legal aid organizations is being made in honor of this Veterans Day as well. To learn more about when clinics and events are scheduled, visit www.texasbar.com/veterans.
As with my colleagues in Beaumont, many attorneys have family members who currently serve or have served, or they may be veterans themselves. By participating in the Texas Lawyers for Texas Veterans program, they get the chance to express their gratitude to those who have defended our country.
Let us all think about how we can give our thanks and assistance to those who have served our country and those who love and honor them.
Bob Black is president of the State Bar of Texas. He is managing shareholder of MehaffyWeber, a law firm with offices in Houston and Beaumont.