Veterans Legal Initiative coalition legal clinics

Two legal clinics for veterans in Texas were held last week.

On November 16, the Bell County Bar Association sponsored a legal advice clinic for veterans at American Legion Post 573 in Harker Heights (near Killeen) in Bell County. JoAnn Merica 
(pictured) presented a CLE program for members of the Bell County Bar, then attorneys stayed to volunteer for the clinic. DeLaine Ward of the Austin Bar Association also came down to assist. Ken Valka, president of the Bell County Bar Association, along with Cynthia Champion and Cindi Parker, co-executive directors of the Bell County Bar, facilitated the Bell County Bar’s sponsorship role. 40 veterans received assistance.

On November 17, Prof. Bridget Fusilier held Baylor Law School’s Wills Clinic, where 25 veterans had wills and estate planning documents executed with the help of volunteer attorneys and law students. 11 more are scheduled for execution at Baylor’s December clinic.

These were two successful events as part of the Veterans Legal Initiative coalition and Texas Lawyers for Texas Veterans
 

Spotlight on Veteran John Dennis Thomson

As the nation celebrates Veterans Day, the State Bar of Texaswould like to honor some of those who served our country by spotlighting interviews from The Veterans’ History Project, a joint project between the Texas Court Reporters Association and the State Bar of Texas. The following post is an excerpt from an interview with John Dennis Thomson who served in the United States Air Force from 1958-1978.

MS. LONG: Do you remember arriving in Vietnam?

MR. THOMSON: Oh, yes.

MS. LONG: What was that like?

MR. THOMSON: Well, it was on Da Nang Air Base. And it was a huge base with a Marine establishment across the road from the Air Force establishment, so – but I actually – while I was assigned to 6924th Security Squadron that was down on Main Base Da Nang, I was actually assigned on top of Monkey Mountain at the Tactical Air Control Center North Sector, and provided special intelligence information to the commander and his staff that ran the control of all the aircraft in the north end of Vietnam.

MS. LONG: Wow. What was it like being in Vietnam?

MR. THOMSON: Well, actually, I had probably as soft a duty as anybody had because we were out of rocket range, and so when we could hear combat things going on we'd grab cameras and binoculars to look and see what we could see. But we were basically in a very, very safe location.

We traveled up the side of the mountain, and down at the end of the duty day every day. It seems like we were about 700 feet off the ground there.

MS. LONG: Did you see any combat in Vietnam?

MR. THOMSON: Well, there was -- I was assigned to this base that was down at Main Base Da Nang and there were regular rocket attacks, but fortunately we were out of rocket range where we were, so we grabbed cameras and binoculars and took pictures from up above.

MS. LONG: Tell me about a couple of your most memorable experiences while you were in Vietnam.

MR. THOMSON: Well, unequivocally the most memorable was the raid on the Sontay Prison Camp. That's S-O-N-T-A-Y.

I – the commander of Tactical Air Control Center North Sector was a full colonel who had, I can't remember how many years service, and I was there to support him with information that was above top secret information. And, so, my office was a little vault that was next to the tactical air control center. Because a top secret clearance didn't get you into the vault that was my space.

And we basically got the special intelligence information and passed it to the people that were authorized to have that out on the control center floor that was right next to us. And our -- our office space was probably not as big as this apartment, but it took a special intelligence clearance to get into that particular area.

And when the raid on the Sontay Prison Camp was being planned, I got called in to the colonel's office, and there were three colonels in his office, and we talked for maybe 10 minutes. And he had been a Doolittle Raider, so he was not a low-key individual, and they excused him and told him they'd be done with his office – we'd be done with his office in about 45 minutes, and they excused this colonel.

MS. LONG: What is a Doolittle Raider?

MR. THOMSON: Oh, that was a raid in World War II –

MS. LONG: Okay.

MR. THOMSON: – that was a significant thing. And, you know, I wasn't there for World War II.

MS. LONG: Sure.

MR. THOMSON: But he was one of the pilots that had flown in Europe on that particular raid.

And, so, anyway, one of the things that they told me was that they needed me to run a extension cord on the special intelligence telephone, out of our special intelligence area that was about the size of this, out onto the operations floor where the individuals were controlling the aircraft that were flying over northern South Vietnam and North Vietnam. And I was supposed to run an extension cord out there to one of the radar places.

And during the raid I sat next to General Manor that ran the raid, and fed him information that wasn't supposed to be out in that particular area so that he had the latest information on what was going on at the time.

MS. LONG: How long did – did the raid last?

MR. THOMSON: Oh, probably – probably – from the time we set up till it was completely over it was probably somewhere between three and five hours.

MS. LONG: Wow.

MR. THOMSON: And when we got north – the raid was unsuccessful because the POWs had been moved from that site to another location, so we didn't pick up anybody at all in that raid.

The other interesting thing to me about that is that I went to – I don't even remember what school it was – after I was back here in San Antonio. And I went to – a terrorism school. And at the terrorism school – this was two or three years after the Vietnam War situation. And the colonel that was running the terrorism school was introduced as one of the raiders who would have been picked up had Sontay Raid been successful.

MS. LONG: Wow.

MR. THOMSON: So I – when we had our first break – I was a captain at the time – went up and introduced myself and explained to him that – what had – how I had been involved in that. And he said, "Captain, I don't know what your plans were, but we're having dinner tonight so we can talk."

And they had actually been moved – apparently unrelated to the raid, but they were – had been moved to a camp that was close enough that they could hear and figured out what was going on. And he said, "It didn't make any difference that you didn't get us, because we knew you tried." But it still impacts on me. Read the full interview.

Spotlight on Veteran Jerry Davis Minton

As the nation celebrates Veterans Day, the State Bar of Texas would like to honor some of those who served our country by spotlighting interviews from The Veterans’ History Project, a joint project between the Texas Court Reporters Association and the State Bar of Texas. The following post is an excerpt from an interview with Jerry Davis Minton who served in the United States Air Force from 1951-1955. 

MR. KUBES: Tell me about a couple of your most memorable experiences.

MR. MINTON: You mean missions?

MR. KUBES: Yes.

MR. MINTON: Well, one that I remember very clearly was on Christmas Eve of 1952. By that time I was a flight commander. I was made a flight commander, I think, on December the 1st, '52. They assigned our flight, which was A-flight of the 80th, for a night mission on Christmas Eve, and I took it. And as I told you, we didn't really have the equipment for all-weather, and when I went out to the airplane, preflighted it, it was snowing and the ceiling was very low, and – which I didn't like, but, you know, it didn't make any difference what you liked. That was what you were assigned.

And I took off and it was in the overcast almost immediately, popped out on top, and went up north of the assigned section of the MSR, which was just south of Sinanju, North Korea. And it was clear on top and then in the front, but the snow disappeared by the time I got the other side of our front lines. I remember flying about 30 miles west of Pyonyang. It was their capital then and the enemy capital today. And I was surprised to see lights all over Pyonyang; not like Fort Worth or New York or something on Christmas Eve, but a lot of lights, and it kind of surprised me.

But I found a – I found a convoy and dropped on them, and I was really apprehensive about making an approach back to the base in snow and low ceilings. The only approach we would have had would have been the so-called GCI approach, ground-controlled instrument approach, which we didn't practice very often. And I got back to about 15 miles south of our lines and looked up ahead of me at the base, and the thing had cleared out and the stars were out. And I was one happy pilot because I wasn't going to have to make an approach in the snow.

And when I got back to the quarters, people had champagne and other things and all the goodies that they had gotten from home, and they were having a Christmas Eve celebration. And I – I just thought that was absolutely great. I was glad to get that one out of the way and then celebrate Christmas Eve. It was nice. Read the full interview.

Spotlight on Veteran John Dwight Burcham

As the nation celebrates Veterans Day, the State Bar of Texas would like to honor some of those who served our country by spotlighting interviews from The Veterans’ History Project, a joint project between the Texas Court Reporters Association and the State Bar of Texas. The following post is an excerpt from an interview with John Dwight Burcham who served in the United States Army Air Corps from 1942-1945.

MR. TARRANCE: You were running out of gas? 

MR. BURCHAM: Running out of gas and running out  daylight. And so the navigator, he's so distraught, he  said, I'll jump out. I'll jump out. I said you can jump  out if you want to. Everybody else is going to stay. So  you do what you want but whatever you do, do it now  because we're going down. And so I drug the field with  the landing lights on. It was that dark. The field — the beach. And I couldn't see anything. It looked fairly  level. So I said boys, we're going in. 

And so after buzzing it a couple of times, I came in  and touched down. And boy, it was – I thought, oh, boy,  this is nice. I can't believe it's that smooth. And all  of a sudden we hit a ditch. The nose wheel went out and the sparks from the nose gear coming up just filled the  cockpit absolutely. It was just like a ton of fire. And  then when the nose wheel let go, then the left main gear  let go and the left wing went down in the sand and the  engine on the side went down in the sand. So all of a  sudden we were there. We went up – the tail went up  vertical. I swear it was vertical because in that ditch – it went up on the nose of the airplane. And I thought  we're going to burn. All of a sudden it stopped there and  settled back down on the tail. 

And I got out of a window I swear wasn't much bigger  than that (indicating). I knew I couldn't help the guys  in the back so I thought we all need to do the best we  could to get away before it exploded. And it was a pretty  good drop down there to the sand. But, anyway, I got out.  This whole time I was the calmest I think I've ever been.  I never got excited. I never got afraid. And I jumped  out and ran away where I thought I was far enough from the  airplane that I knew it was going to explode and my knees  just gave out. All of a sudden, I just, woe. We had the  right wing was up in the air as a result of the left wing  being in the sand so we got on the radio again, tried to  raise somebody, couldn't raise anybody. 

MR. TARRANCE: Everybody got out all right? 

MR. BURCHAM: Everybody got out. One of the belly– the belly gunner got hit by a gun and just got a small cut  on his forehead, and that's the only person who was  injured at all. 

So we got out and everybody got out and since  the number four engine was up in the air, we got it  started. That's when we tried to call on the radio and  couldn't raise anybody. So I said, well, somebody has got  to go downtown where this town – we didn't even know  where we were. And it was Reggio de Calabria which was an  old town on the Mediterranean there just across the  straits of Messina from Italy. So I selected a guy name  Tex. I've forgotten his name now. He was our top gunner.  He was from Nocona, Texas. He and I – all we had was our  45's. We started in towards town. And what I wanted to  do is call the Air Force. 

So I ran into – we ran into a donkey-drawn cart and  we talked them into taking us into town and to the Mayor's  office. He was very gracious. He called – got Rome on  the phone for me – Air Corps in Rome – headquarters in  Rome. I told them we were down. Nobody was hurt. The  airplane was not flyable out. And so they said, well,  we'll send somebody for you as soon as we can. Well,  three weeks later – we lived under the wing of the  airplane for three weeks. Read the full interview.

Spotlight on Veteran John Mark Blaze

As the nation celebrates Veterans Day, the State Bar of Texas would like to honor some of those who served our country by spotlighting interviews from The Veterans’ History Project, a joint project between the Texas Court Reporters Association and the State Bar of Texas. The following post is an excerpt from an interview with John Mark Blaze who served in the United States Coast Guard from 1942-1945. 

Our ship would go all over the Philippine Islands to Mindanao to Samar to Kurgan to Borneo, wherever American troops were that needed stuff, we would bring it to them. In Mindanao, we had a gun fight. My – my eyes were burned up pretty bad. So then they had to take me from there to back to Manila and put me on a hospital ship, the auxiliary hospital, called the Refuge AH1, Auxiliary Hospital 1, the Refuge.

They left my sea bags and everything on the ship. Now, I had no ship – I had no place to go except be on the ear, eyes, nose, and throat there.

A little story happens while I was a patient on eyes, nose, and throat ward there. My eyes were bandaged. My mail was brought to me from my wife, and they stuck it under the pillow of my bed, and they said that there would be somebody within the next two or three days come by to be able to read my mail to me.

In the meantime, a sailor came up and asked me – said, Hey, Sailor, do you mind if I read your letters to you? I said, Yeah, please. And he looked at the postmark, and he said, You're from Crown Point, Indiana? I said, No, I'm from Gary. He said, I'm from Gary, too. And so the story goes. We met there in a little ward in the Philippines about 12, 13,000 miles away from home.

Now, I never seen the guy, and he had what they called infectious sinus. They could – nothing could cure him, because the only medicines they had at that time was penicillin. So they had to take him back to the United States. Now, I didn't have his name written down or nothing. I woke up the next day, and I asked about the guy who read the letters, and he said he's gone. He left.

About five years later, I was a chef at a restaurant in Gary. A guy came in to sell me meat, and he was a driver for the Wonder Bread Company, and he was kind of black market at that time, and he had a shelf underneath his truck that he had – a dry ice down there, and he had meat he was trying to sell to restaurants and whatnot. And he kept pestering me for about three or four days, and I wouldn't buy any meat from him.

Then he asks me, he said, Were you in service? And I said, Yeah. He said, I was, too. He said, Where were you? I said, South Pacific. He said, Mine was, too. He said, But I got a medical discharge. I had an infectious sinus. I said, Oh my God, were you on the Refuge? He said, Yeah. His name was Frank Jason, and we became lifelong friends after that. Read the full interview.

Spotlight on Veteran Captain Earl Dean Milton

As the nation celebrates Veterans Day, the State Bar of Texas would like to honor some of those who served our country by spotlighting interviews from The Veterans’ History Project, a joint project between the Texas Court Reporters Association and the State Bar of Texas. The following post is an excerpt from an interview with retired Captain Earl Dean Milton who served in the Army Air Corps from 1943 to 1948.

MRS. CLOWER: You did not have radar before? You were just using the star navigation?

MR. MILTON: Yes. Radar wasn't any good over the ocean, and it would help when you had land and water. It shows up real good on a screen.

MRS. CLOWER: That was a challenge.

MR. MILTON: We had to bomb Japan a few times during the war with radar. When you're in clouds and your bombardier can't see, you use radar to drop your bombs, and I was the expert on radar.

MRS. CLOWER: So you would say you would give the command to drop the bomb at the right time?

MR. MILTON: Uh-huh.

MRS. CLOWER: And this was, what'd we say, 15 missions?

MRS. MILTON: Twenty-two --

MRS. CLOWER: Three fire bombs and 22 weather.

MR. MILTON: The weather mission we carried a bomb, a 500-pound bomb, and we would drop it anywhere we wanted to. So I would say I bombed Japan 23 regular times, 2 weather missions, makes 25. So I bombed Japan 25 times.

MRS. CLOWER: I'm sure that they remember you, too. Did you receive any kind of recognitions or medals?

MR. MILTON: Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Metal, and something else. I forget what it is.

MRS. MILTON: Asiatic Pacific Theater Ribbon, Eastern Mandated Island Campaign was Bronze Star. Air Metal with two oak leaf clusters. Distinguished Flying Cross, and Air Offense against Japan with Bronze Star, and then the Victory Metal for anyone who fought in the war until it was over. Distinguished Flying Cross they got from flying a low-level fire bomb mission to Tokyo.

MRS. CLOWER: That's very impressive. I'm glad you were decorated.

MR. MILTON: Yeah. My scariest time, I can tell you, 23 was — I told you we discovered the jetstream. Well, there was a big, big plan to bomb, fire bomb Tokyo. We were amongst the last ones, maybe, you know, three or four or five or 600 planes. And we came — we were coming in last. Tokyo was afire. We came in and dropped our bombs, oh, oh, oh, and all of a sudden we hit this flame. All of a sudden we were going up, up, up, up, up, up. So we finally had our radar on, but for some reason they quit working, and our pilot gave me — asked me for direction home, and I gave him what, based on when we flew up, what I had. So I gave that to him. And it was cloudy. This was the daytime, late, midafternoon, I guess you'd say. And when we got out of that smoke we were in the clouds. And I said to him — I gave him direction home. And I said, "Will you try to climb out of these clouds so I can take a fix on the sun and the moon?" My book showed me the moon would be available, visible. So we climbed and climbed, and I got up in the — where I could see my bubble, keep going up, keep going up. Finally we broke out, and I took a fix on the sun and a fix on the moon. Got back down to my desk, figured it out, couldn't believe it. So I told him what I found and new directions to get home. And, oh, my god, we were way over. I said, "Let me go check again." So I got up there and doubled up, came back down and says, "That's correct." He said, "We don't have enough gas to get home." I said, "Well, let me give you direction to Iwo Jima." I came back down and we were in the clouds again. So kept going and kept going, and finally time to be there, we still couldn't see the ground, we were in the clouds.

MRS. CLOWER: Oh, dear.

MR. MILTON: I said, "Circle, and keep going down." So we started circling and going down. Finally we broke out, bingo, there was Iwo Jima. I was sweating that one out.

MRS. CLOWER: How many people were on the plane you would normally have?

MR. MILTON: Eleven men.

MRS. CLOWER: Eleven men. You saved yourself and ten others that day. What a story. That's remarkable.

MR. MILTON: That was my scariest one.

MRS. CLOWER: Well, I would think so.

MR. MILTON: Trouble is, we wouldn't have made it if it hadn't have been for Iwo Jima. We didn't have enough gasoline to get home. Read the full interview.

Lone Star Legal Aid offers free veterans law CLE

Texas Lawyers for Texas Veterans logoLone Star Legal Aid’s Longview branch office is conducting a day-long CLE for Texas attorneys who would like to assist veterans with their legal issues. The CLE takes place Friday, Aug. 26, from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the Good Shepherd Institute for Healthy Living, 611 E. Hawkins Pkwy., in Longview. “These are critically tough economic times for everyone and we are working to identify and serve low-income veterans who need important legal help but cannot afford it,” said Dorman Brumbelow, Pro Bono Litigation Coordinator in the Longview office. “Our partnerships with private attorneys are vital to ensuring that more low-income Texans have access to justice.”

The event is free to attorneys who agree to accept at least one civil case on a pro bono basis from Lone Star Legal Aid for a low-income veteran. The program includes an overview of veterans benefits, federal and state protections for active service members, and other issues such as IRS considerations. Attorneys can earn up to 7.5 hours of MCLE credit. For more information or to register, contact Tammy Self or Sheila Timberlake in Lone Star Legal Aid’s Longview office at (903) 758-9123.

El Paso Conference Addresses Legal Needs of Veterans and Active Duty Military

El Paso Lawyers for Patriots conference As part of the Texas Lawyers for Texas Veterans initiative, El Paso Lawyers for Patriots, an arm of the El Paso Bar Association, is holding a two-day CLE aimed at preparing legal professionals to better address the legal needs of the military community. The course will be held May 20-21, 2011, at Fort Bliss in El Paso, with topics ranging from initial military client interview to jurisdiction and service of process and from the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act to military retirement issues, family law issues, and more. Featured speakers include Capt. Evan Seamone of the Judge Advocate General's Corps, Prof. Kyndra R. Rotunda of UC Berkeley School of Law and Executive Director of AMVETS Legal Clinic, and LTC George McHugh, Liaison Officer from the Department of Defense to the ABA's Military Pro Bono Project. Click here for more information or here to register.

Free clinics to help service members obtain stop loss pay

Lone Star Legal Aid (LSLA) will conduct two free clinics to help veterans and active military apply for RetroActive Stop Loss Special Pay (RSLSP) before the current deadline of April 8, 2011. Service members who believe they are eligible for RSLSP are encouraged to attend LSLA free help clinics on April 4 and April 5 in Killeen, Texas. Both clinics will take place at the Killeen Community Center from 9 am – 4 pm located at 2201 East Veterans Memorial Boulevard, in Killeen. LSLA attorneys and staff will be there to assist the eligible service members with the application process.

Service members, veterans, (and their beneficiaries) whose service was involuntarily extended under Stop Loss, a forced extension of active duty military service, between Sept. 11, 2001 and Sept. 30, 2009 may be eligible for RSLSP. Congress has extended the deadline several times to allow eligible persons extra time to apply for the pay and recently extended the deadline through April 8 under the Continuing Resolution the federal government is operating under.

The RSLSP additional payment of $500 for each month of involuntary service, results in average payments to service members of $3,700, an amount that could make a difference for a service member and their family now. This money could be especially important for families who qualify for free legal services. The average veteran or service member who qualifies for free legal services with Lone Star Legal Aid is living under the Federal poverty guidelines; this money could absolutely change their lives. 

Service members who plan to attend the April 4 or April 5 free clinics should bring all required forms to the clinics. For a complete list of the required forms visit your branch of military’s website or http://www.defense.gov/home/features/2010/0710_stoploss/.


For more information please contact Rebekah Mason, Staff Attorney, at (713) 652-0077 or at rmason@lonestarlegal.org.
 

Talking with the Texas Veterans Commission

We caught up with Tina Carnes, general counsel to the Texas Veterans Commission (TVC), and spoke with her about the Commission’s work with veterans, her own commitment to servicemembers, and what’s next for TVC.

What kind of work does TVC do?

Texas Veterans Commission is an advocacy agency with more than 340 employees in over 75 cities around the state that help Texas veterans receive the benefits they so richly deserve.

The Texas Veterans Commission is nationally recognized for its expertise in helping veterans get the most benefits they are entitled to and the State of Texas leads the nation in monetary recovery of veterans’ compensation. Last year, approximately 2.1 billion was paid in compensation and pension benefits to Texas veterans and eligible surviving family members represented by the Texas Veterans Commission. 

Texas also leads the nation in putting veterans to work. According to recent data provided by the Department of Labor, the Texas Veterans Commission assisted 47,556 veterans enter the workforce in a 12-month period, helping more veterans get jobs than any other state in the country.

The Texas Veterans Commission assists veterans in securing their educational benefits, such as the GI Bill and Hazelwood Exemption, by working with over 1,100 Texas schools and employers.

The Texas Veterans Commission Fund for Veterans’ Assistance awards grants to veteran service organizations, charities, and local government agencies that provide direct assistant to veterans and their families. Since February 2010, the Fund has awarded over $6.7 million in grants.

 

What is the most rewarding part of your work with TVC?

I grew up in a military family. My father is a decorated, disabled Vietnam veteran. I remember the veterans of that war coming home and feeling as if the nation did not value the sacrifices they made. It is the commitment of the Texas Veterans Commission to ensure that each veteran in the State of Texas knows that his or her sacrifice is valued and was not made in vain.

What's on the horizon for the organization? Are there any new initiatives you're excited about?

The Texas Veterans Commission is excited about working with the State Bar of Texas on its Texas Lawyers for Texas Veterans initiative. The Commission provides counselors at the legal clinics to assist veterans with VA claims. The Commission also provides claims counselors to assist Veterans Courts that give second chances to combat veterans who suffer from traumatic brain injury or post-traumatic stress disorder.

The Texas Veterans Commission is also excited about reaching out to women veterans across the state of Texas and exploring new ways to combat homelessness among veterans. 

For more information, please visit TVC's website.

Texas Lawyers for Texas Veterans Legal Clinics

What better way to honor the National Pro Bono Celebration than to volunteer for a pro bono legal advice clinic for veterans? These clinics are at the heart of the State Bar’s Texas Lawyers for Texas Veterans initiative. Local bar associations and legal aid organizations across the state have answered State Bar President Terry Tottenham’s call to assist veterans who otherwise cannot afford or do not have access to the legal services they need.

In November, to commemorate Veterans Day (Nov. 11), legal advice clinics for veterans are taking place all across the state thanks to the efforts of countless volunteer attorneys who want to give back to those who have given so much to this country.

If you would like to get involved, there are several ways you can participate: Volunteer for a morning or afternoon at a clinic, take a veteran’s case pro bono, serve as a substantive law expert for clinics, or become accredited through the VA to help with veterans’ disability benefits claims.

For a schedule of upcoming clinics or to learn more about Texas Lawyers for Texas Veterans, visit www.texasbar.com/veterans.

TexasBarCLE Webcast Offers Veterans Benefits Law Training

As part of the Texas Lawyers for Texas Veterans initiative, TexasBarCLE is offering a live webcast on the Basics of Veterans Benefits Law. The webcast, scheduled for Tuesday, August 24, from 9 a.m. to noon, is designed to give attorneys who have an interest in representing veteran claimants seeking U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) benefits a primer in this growing area of practice. Attorneys who want to represent a veteran on a VA benefits claim must be accredited by the VA.

For attorneys who are already approved by the VA to represent veteran claimants, this webcast also provides the three hours of CLE necessary to maintain their accreditation. The course will focus on VA disability benefits, the rules regarding attorney representation of a veteran with benefits claims, basic eligibility for VA benefits, claims procedures, etc.

Attorneys who agree to take one VA benefits case pro bono within one year can take the course at no charge. Visit TexasBarCLE.com to learn more or to register.

PBS Profiles Harris County Veterans' Court

PBS Need to Know logoThe Harris County Veterans' Court is being profiled this Friday evening on the national PBS series "Need to Know." The show will look at how veterans' courts are being set up to help veterans suffering from untreated post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or traumatic brain injuries who end up in the criminal justice system. KUHT in Houston is airing it at 8:30 p.m. For your local affiliate and broadcast time, visit PBS.org. 

Texas Access to Justice Commission to hold Gala for Veterans

The Texas Access to Justice Commission is holding a gala next month to raise funds for the provision of civil legal services for veterans. The Texas Access to Justice Foundation will distribute these funds to programs providing civil legal services for veterans in Texas.

The Champions of Justice Gala for Veterans will be held on May 4, 2010 at the AT&T Executive Education & Conference Center in Austin. Individual tickets are available, and sponsorships to reserve tables are also available at different levels. For more information, to download a packet, or to sponsor or donate online, please visit http://www.texasatj.org/gala.

Providing access to justice to those who protect our country

The U.S. Armed Forces protect citizens’ rights, including the right to access to justice. The Houston Bar Association and Houston Volunteer Lawyers Program have found a way to ensure that Houston veterans receive access to justice in return.

Approximately 1/3 of Houston veterans are homeless and many more are living on modest means, unable to afford an attorney. Recognizing the severity of this issue, the Houston Bar Association implemented a program to aid our nation’s heroes. Every Friday from 2:00 p.m. – 3:00 p.m., volunteers from the Houston Volunteer Lawyers Program staff a free legal clinic held at the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center. Any veteran who attends receives a free legal consultation. Many times, questions are basic and the legal need is fulfilled. If by chance a veteran has an ongoing legal issue, the Houston Volunteer Lawyers Program determines if the veteran is eligible for free representation and connects qualified veterans with a volunteer attorney.

The attendance at the legal clinics has grown - attorneys are now seeing 30 attorneys a week. As the clinics’ success grew, the Houston Bar has expanded the program to include services at veteran transition homes and other special legal clinics. Houston lawyers agree that the volunteer efforts are very fulfilling and that attorneys are building close bonds with local veterans.

Volunteer attorney Denise Scofield described the relationships, “We know our clients, we receive Christmas cards, announcements about grandchildren, and emails. “

The Houston Bar Association held a training seminar on Friday, November 13 to assist with a statewide initiative. Speakers included volunteer attorneys who have experience siding veterans, Judge Mark Cater who developed the first veterans court  in Texas, and executive staff members of the Michael E DeBakey VA Medical Center. The State Bar of Texas will implement a program in June of 2010, Texas Lawyers for Texas Veterans.

Above: On November 13, State Bar Director Allan DuBois of San Antonio discusses his experience handling a VA disability case.