By Buck Files
President, State Bar of Texas
If you had been at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport on October 9, you might have been curious as to the VIP’s who were being interviewed by television crews and visited with by other passengers. Were they politicians or movie stars or successful businessmen? No, they were World War II veterans who were participating in the Honor Flight Program that would fly them to our nation’s capital so that they could see the World War II Memorial. These veterans were part of “the Greatest Generation.” They are all truly treasures of our nation as are all of those who have served our great country through military service.
On Veterans Day, there will be parades and ceremonies and speeches and veterans of all our wars will be honored. During their service, all lived the words of President John F. Kennedy: “Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.”
And then the parades and ceremonies and speeches will be over and it will be another year before some Americans remember or have any concern for the 22.7 million veterans who live in these United States, including the more than 1.7 million who live in Texas. While all of us know somebody who served, we rarely think about what happens to these men and women when they are no longer in the military. We know that some of them use benefits to get an education. We know that there are Veterans Hospitals and Veterans Offices where other kinds of support is available. We don’t really know what assistance exists but we assume that it is adequate.
Only about one-half of one percent of our population is currently serving on active duty. We have an all-volunteer military but that does not in any way diminish their service to our country. To be sure, our nation has responded to assist veterans with programs on the local, state and national levels. Many of those benefits, without question, help – but far too many of our veterans continue to require assistance with medical, housing, employment, and post-traumatic stress disorder issues. Numerous organizations and non-profits have been created to help our veterans. All of these programs are needed and used. As a country, we owe it to our veterans — who have risked everything to protect our democracy — to treat them like the heroes that they are.
Two years ago, the State Bar of Texas recognized that there was a hole in services for veterans and launched Texas Lawyers for Texas Veterans. Lawyers across our state have volunteered to provide free assistance to veterans and their families who cannot afford basic legal services. Lawyer organizations have joined with the Veterans Commission, the Veterans Administration, and others to do their part to help our veterans. Through clinics coordinated by our local bar associations, Texas lawyers have served more than 6,000 veterans since 2010 and our program continues to grow. You can find out more about this program at texasbar.com/veterans.
On this Veterans Day, let us do more than honor the men and women who have served to protect our rights and freedom. Let us make a commitment to our veterans that they will receive the assistance that they need and deserve. They earned it.
Buck Files, a criminal defense lawyer from Tyler, is president of the State Bar of Texas. He served on active duty in the United States Marine Corps from December, 1963 until August, 1967.