Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Military & Veterans Affairs Committee: Helping Those Who Have Defended Our Country

By Bob Nader and Lt. Col. Christopher Brown

In the recent past, the Hillsborough County Bar Association has strived to help veterans in the area through the Military Liaison Committee. The committee, which was reactivated in October 2001, attempted to provide some pro bono services to needy veterans in the area. Like most committees, its success depended on who was chairing the committee. As you know, we have a large veteran population in Hillsborough County, whether active-duty service members, military retirees, or those who previously served in the Armed Forces. Unfortunately, some in the last category are homeless, some suffer from service-connected illnesses such as post-traumatic stress disorder, and many are in dire need of legal services.

With that in mind, HCBA President Ben Hill asked us to co-chair and revamp the HCBA efforts to provide services and outreach to veterans under a revitalized and re-named working group, the Military & Veterans Affairs Committee. The initial goal is to develop a self-sustaining outreach program for needy veterans in the area through the establishment of three subcommittees: Pro Bono Services, Education, and Mentoring.

The focus of the Pro Bono Services Subcommittee is to provide free legal services to veterans who meet certain criteria, set up a legal aid clinic at the James A. Haley Veterans Hospital (ideally once a month), and develop liaisons with other local veteran entities, such as the Wounded Warrior Project and the MacDill Transition Assistance Program, in an effort to reach those most in need of services.

The function of the Education Subcommittee is to develop a cadre of subject-matter experts to teach classes or otherwise assist veterans on legal-related issues such as VA benefits and claims, elder law, credit and consumer counseling, landlord-tenant, and family law. Additionally, this subcommittee will offer at least one CLE class during the Bar year on topics such as the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder and how to navigate veterans through the VA claims process.

Finally, the Mentoring Subcommittee will liaison with the local Veterans Court and other veteran entities to link up a veteran in need of mentorship or guidance with a current or former service member in the area. To foster participation, the subcommittee intends to develop a list of potential mentors through local active-duty personnel, former or retired military personnel within the HCBA, and retired military members living in our community.

If you are interested in being a part of the team, please contact one of us. A roster of lawyers, judges, civic leaders, and other individuals within the region who hopefully will become involved with this transformed committee is being created. We are in the infancy of reestablishing this important committee and welcome not only your assistance but also ideas on how we can structure the committee to best serve our veterans. It in an honor for us to chair the committee, and we look forward to working with you.