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.