Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Millitary and Veterans Affairs Committee: Working to Enhance and Build Upon MVAC’s Mission

By Matthew F. Hall  and Colleen O’Brien

     As we seek to build on the outstanding work of the Military & Veterans Affairs Committee (MVAC), we would like to thank Bob Nader, Lt. Col. Christopher Brown, and Ben Hill IV for their guidance and leadership in transforming the former Military Liaison Committee into MVAC. We pledge to work hard to continue to connect our Bar association with our active-duty, reserve, guard, and veteran community in Tampa Bay.

     By way of introduction, MVAC leadership is composed of our military liaison, Lt. Col. Brown, the staff judge advocate at MacDill Air Force Base. Our emeritus chair is Bob Nader. Bob is the son of a WWII veteran. He continues to provide the committee with heart, dedication, energy, and great ideas. Co-Chair Colleen O’Brien has several family members who served in the military. She is familiar with and has a deep respect for what it means to serve. Finally, Co-Chair Matthew Hall enlisted in the U.S. Army Infantry at 17 and deployed to Iraq in 2003. The diverse backgrounds of the MVAC leaders are representative of the diverse members of the MVAC who came together to make this committee strong, despite its young age.

     Last year, a significant MVAC project was creating the Veterans Legal Registry to connect veterans in need of legal assistance with lawyers wanting to assist them. We currently have 17 areas of law where local attorneys have committed to support those who have served our nation.  The list is available at tinyurl.com/veteranslegalregistry. If you would like to be added to the registry, please contact us. Additionally, MVAC and other HCBA attorneys volunteered at community “Stand Downs” and similar events to respond to veterans’ legal questions and provide registry referrals. 

    Another way the MVAC assists veterans is through the Hillsborough County Veterans Treatment Court (VTC). The VTC recently expanded from misdemeanors and ordinance violations to also include felonies. That change resulted in the court going from about a dozen defendants to more than 40 in less than six months. A unique facet is the VTC’s mentoring system ably led by MVAC member and retired U.S. Army Col. D.J. Reyes. The defendant is assigned a battle buddy with military experience to support the veteran as he or she progresses through the VTC program. Several MVAC members serve as mentors in this rewarding program.

     The MVAC also has an education component to its tripartite mission statement. Last year, we conducted three well-received CLEs, and we intend to continue providing CLE credits, including significant ethics credits

     This year, we look forward to working with the HCBA’s other committees and taking advantage of the MVAC’s diverse membership. We hope to capitalize on Colleen’s involvement in the YLD to connect young lawyers with more experienced lawyers to benefit both committees and to extend the MVAC’s reach into specific practice areas.

     We invite you to attend an MVAC meeting or volunteer for an event. The MVAC is open to all attorneys, regardless of military experience. Our mission is to serve those who have served this great nation. We look forward to another great year of assisting veterans in our community. We welcome your ideas and hope you will join us on this important mission.