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One for the veterans

Here’s an item in honor of Veterans Day tomorrow.

It’s Veteran Legal Services Month, and the Virginia Bar Association is once again at work recruiting pro bono volunteers to help veterans with legal issues and raising money for projects that help them.

Volunteer response was strong last November, during the bar group’s first push for help for veterans. But pro bono lawyers are still needed, particularly to take domestic relations cases, said Robert Barrett, co-chair of the VBA Veterans Issues Task Force.

America has been at war for 10 years now, he said, and if a servicemember has been in the service during all that time, he or she likely has had more than one deployment. The situation puts great strains on families. The task force needs volunteers who can help with divorce, custody and no-fault separation.

In terms of geography, Hampton Roads is a particular area in need. Norfolk has the world’s largest naval base, and Ft. Monroe, the Joint Forces Command and other outposts are in the area at large.

Barrett said domestic cases make up 60 percent of the cases the VBA task force takes in, but the needs don’t end there. Attorneys can assist with issues involving landlord/tenant disputes and employment law.

The other task force initiative this month is fundraising. Barrett said that Matt Kapinos, the other task force co-chair, last year thought up a fundraising drive for the Veterans Benefits Clinic at the William and Mary law school.

The drive got under way without as much time as the two men would have liked, but they still raised more than $25,000, mostly from Central Virginia law firms, Barrett said.

This year, the task force hopes to double that figure, and the beneficiary will be Helping Military Veterans through Higher Education (HMVHE), a consortium of colleges and universities that are coordinating their schools’ resources to assist veterans and military servicemembers with legal, medical and benefits needs.

Schools supporting HMVHE so far include: Eastern Virginia Medical School, James Madison University, Lynchburg College, Old Dominion University, Radford University, Shenandoah University, the University of Virginia, the College of William & Mary and Virginia Commonwealth University.

Barrett said that the organizers are including law firms again, but they hope to tap government offices, the Attorney General’s office and private companies. Barrett said that he went in-house about a year ago, and he has been working with WMACCA, the group of in-house lawyes based in Washington.

Anyone who is interested in volunteering their time or donating to the cause can do so at the VBA website – www.vba.org/veterans.

The task force hosted a kick-off last Friday in Richmond, with Gov. Bob McDonnell as keynote speaker. McDonnell, a former lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army with a daughter who served in Iraq, called the VBA’s work “a critically important initiative.”

Veterans are “American heroes,” McDonnell said, who risk life and limb for the nation. “We need to treat veterans well.”

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