TYLA PRESIDENT’S PAGE
The Price of Freedom: Honoring Those Who Served
On a dark Thursday night, April 1, 2004, U.S. Marine Pfc. Dustin Sekula and his 81mm mortar platoon were traveling on a vehicle patrol near Kubaysah, Iraq. Along the route, his unit came under ambush fire with a volley of automatic weapons. Dustin was struck in his right shoulder and knocked to the floor of the vehicle. With complete disregard for his own safety, Dustin lifted himself to the edge of the vehicle and returned a heavy volume of fire on the enemy. This selfless act enabled the remainder of his squad to dismount safely, return suppressive fire, and eventually disable the enemy position. At the age of 18, Dustin paid the ultimate sacrifice so that he could protect the men on his patrol.
Before joining the Marines, Dustin and I went to church together in South Texas. He had just graduated from Edinburg North High School, where he was one of the school’s top-ranked students. An active member of Future Farmers of America, he turned down an agriculture scholarship in order to—in Dustin’s words—“Give it to somebody that needs it.”
A few months later, the Marine Corps unit that I was serving with lost Lance Cpl. Juan Rodriguez-Velasco and Lance Cpl. Matthew Holloway during an enemy ambush near Hit, Iraq. For generations, brave and selfless teenagers and young adults like Dustin, Juan, and Matthew have answered the challenge to protect and preserve our freedom.
Recently, over Memorial Day, we remembered those that made the ultimate sacrifice in their service for this country.
On the Fourth of July, we honor all the men and women—past and present—who have shouldered the burden of our country’s independence. They are husbands, wives, sons, daughters, mothers, and fathers. They are friends and neighbors. Many others are the strangers that we pass on our commutes to the office or court.
Of the 2.7 million Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, 1 in 5 return home with post-traumatic stress. Left untreated, mental health disorders among veterans can directly lead to substance/alcohol abuse and repeated involvement in the criminal justice system. These veterans need our help. They served us. Now, it is time for us to serve them.
This year, our new class of Texas Young Lawyers Association Directors (Jefferson Fisher, of Beaumont; David R. Hagan, of Longview; Hisham Masri, of Dallas; Brady Pendleton, of Stephenville; Laura Pratt, of Lubbock; Jeanine Rispoli, of Waco; Marcos Rosales, of Houston; Julia Rubio, of Laredo; Taylor A. Smith, of Dallas; Johnathan Stone, of Austin; Brandon Draper, of Richmond; Matthew Manning, of Corpus Christi; and Josué Galván, of San Antonio) will be serving our military heroes.
On June 15 at the State Bar Annual Meeting, the new group of TYLA leaders, under the direction of Committee Chair Rebecca Patterson Linehan, of Midland, began working on a Veterans Treatment Court, or VTC, resource kit that will include various legal resources and video interviews discussing the life-changing impacts that VTCs have on veterans and their families. During the New Director’s Orientation Meeting, the group was able to listen to Wounded Warrior Project representative Issac Acosta about legal needs that are particular to veterans. In addition, the group gained important information from Judge Israel Ramon Jr., of the 430th District Court and Hidalgo County’s VTC, and TYLA District 13 Director Lauren Sepulveda, Hidalgo County assistant district attorney and VTC prosecutor.
VTCs, as authorized by state statute, require regular court appearances, as well as mandatory attendance at treatment sessions, and frequent random testing for drug and alcohol use. For many veterans, without this structure, they will reoffend and remain in the criminal justice system. Currently, there are a few VTCs throughout Texas in larger counties. However, for other smaller counties, the process of establishing a VTC can be overwhelming.
The goal of this project is to provide all Texas counties with the information and resources needed to establish a VTC and help provide veterans with the structure they need to avoid repeated involvement in the criminal justice system.
Together, with the help of the State Bar of Texas and Texas Lawyers for Texas Veterans, or TLTV, we are going to serve those who served us first.
Of all the underserved communities, our legal profession owes a debt of gratitude to our Texas veterans. To learn about more opportunities to serve our Texas veterans, go to TLTV at texasbar.com/tltv.
With freedom comes responsibility,
VICTOR A. FLORES
Texas Young Lawyers Association