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Veterans deserve our gratitude—and our service

By Lisa M. Tatum

Lisa Tatum

In recent years there has been a great deal of coverage on veterans and the difficulties many of them face. The stories highlight a range of hurdles from soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with debilitating physical and mental traumas to reports of disability claims backlogs at V.A. offices across the country. The Washington Post, citing Department of Veterans Affairs figures, recently reported that more than a quarter-million veterans are appealing disability-claim decisions, and many may wait as long as four years or longer for a ruling.

Research shows that about 3.4 million of the nation’s 22.6 million veterans have a service-connected disability, and approximately 20 percent returning from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars suffer symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. In Texas alone, which is home to about 1.7 million veterans, an estimated 16,000 veterans are homeless. Studies suggest that roughly three-fourths of homeless veterans experience substance abuse or mental health problems.

Moreover, our veterans also face a number of unique legal issues, such as obtaining disability benefits, correcting military records, and navigating the complex laws governing veterans assistance compensation and pension claims. And not all of them can afford legal assistance, assuming they know where to turn.

Veterans advocates, journalists, and others have done an admirable job of making the general public aware of the problems our service men and women and their families face. Now, as Americans and beneficiaries of their protection, it is up to us to use our talents and abilities to assist them in addressing the issues confronting them.

Three years ago, the State Bar of Texas introduced Texas Lawyers for Texas Veterans to help meet our veterans' growing legal needs. The program, launched by then-State Bar President Terry Tottenham, who served in the Marine Corps, helps develop and support pro bono legal clinics across Texas for military veterans who otherwise cannot afford or lack access to an attorney.

Since 2010, about 3,000 Texas lawyers have served more than 10,000 veterans through the program, addressing issues such as bankruptcy, housing, employment, wills and estate planning, and landlord-tenant disputes. Across Texas, more than 50 local bar associations and legal organizations host weekly, monthly, biannual, or annual legal advice clinics for veterans, and legal groups in 23 other states have asked for and received “clinic in a box” materials.  

The results are clear in stories like Severina Wilson’s. A veteran of World War II and the Korean War, Wilson was nearly evicted from her Pasadena home this year because of a bank’s escrow error, according to a report by Houston ABC affiliate KTRK-TV. Her eviction hearing imminent, Wilson, 91, sought help at the weekly veterans clinic organized by Houston Volunteer Lawyers Program, a service of the Houston Bar Association. Lawyers from the clinic attended her hearing and convinced the judge to delay a ruling. Volunteer attorneys from a Houston law firm later resolved the case, allowing Wilson to stay in the home she loved.

Every year on Nov. 11, we pause to observe Veterans Day. If you are an attorney, this is a perfect time to help a veteran by getting involved in a legal clinic. To find one in your area, visit texasbar.com/TLTV.

Attorney or not, we can all find a way to express our gratitude. This Veterans Day, take some time to reflect on how you can serve those who served our country.

Lisa M. Tatum is president of the State Bar of Texas and the founder and owner of LM Tatum, PLLC, in San Antonio with a practice that focuses on corporate, education, employment, and public finance law. She may be reached by email at statebarpresident@texasbar.com.

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