Thursday, September 25, 2008

NLG Military Law Task Force Military Law & Counseling Library

A free online Military Law & Counseling Library is provided by the National Lawyer's Guild Military Law Task Force here: It focuses on a variety of issue such as doing your first court-martial, political rights of servicemembers, conscientious objection and much more.

Monday, September 22, 2008

A Military Veterans Guide To Disability Compensation and Pension Benefits

Jim Strickland, longtime author of "Jim's Mailbag," a column on veteran's issues at VAWatchdog and The Veterans Voice, has written a detailed yet readable "A Military Veterans Guide To Disability Compensation and Pension Benefits".
"I wanted to give the veteran simple access to knowledge as a tool to use to improve his or her life." -- Jim Strickland
Endorsed by Larry Scott at VA Watchdog.Org, it's well worth checking out for lawyer and layman alike. Learn More!
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Saturday, September 20, 2008

Turning Veterans Into Lawyers

OK, it's time for some opinion.

The best way to meet a need for an underserved population is to teach members of that population to help themselves and their peers.

This "Teach a Guy to Fish" concept applies to legal services as to anything else. With over a million servicemembers rotating in and out of our land wars in Asia, we confidently anticipate a landslide of legal needs going unmet.

Pro bono is good. Public legal education and reforming our laws so it's easier to navigate our legal system: also good. But they aren't enough; the numbers are just too great. We need to take some of those smart young kids who have been-there and turn them into lawyers to serve the community of veterans.

The GI Bill 2008 is a good start, but it won't put you through law school (maybe paralegal school, which is not bad.)

What we need is to recruit a big chunk of law firms to hire veterans as law clerks in the various "Lincoln Lawyers" programs in several states, that let you "Read The Law". Washington State has one, California has one (read this description of their program by a Marine who went through it)

Benefits to the Veteran

  • Actual, practical experience doing law so that you come out of the program actually knowing how to file paper with the court, meet with a client, and record your expenses
  • Actual, practical experience doing law so that if the work really is not for you, you can bail out before ruining the lives of your clients
  • No law school debt!

Benefits to the Law Firm

  • Patriotism. You can fly all the yellow ribbons you want, but this is a chance to do something that might make a difference
  • Clerks who can go without sleep, work without resources, and respond to unreasonable demands with a shrug. "You want what? yeah ok, that's nothing compared to getting shot at."
  • A chance to evaluate potential future associates who, if you choose to hire them as attorneys once they complete the program, can bring in a big book of business from fellow veterans, and the specialized knowledge to speak their language
  • Did I emphasize the patriotism thing enough?

Are You With Us?

If you're on board, contact me and we'll get started. Sign up at the listserve: and we'll plot the course - Why wait?

Or ... you can just buy another yellow ribbon magnet for your SUV.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

National Veterans Legal Services Program seeking pro bono lawyers for Veterans Appeals

The Veterans Consortium Pro Bono Program is seeking attorneys to represent one appellant before the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims. Private attorneys with no veterans law experience have demonstrated their ability to capably represent appellants in the Court. Most cases can be completed in 50 hours. To date, almost 1,350 attorneys have accepted almost 3,000 cases under the program.

How the Veterans Consortium Pro Bono Program Works

The cornerstones of the Veterans Consortium Pro Bono Program are screening of cases for merit and providing attorneys with training. The program’s staff of experienced veterans’ law specialists will screen the appeal of every individual who seeks pro bono representation from the program. Only those cases that appear meritorious and meet income eligibility guidelines are referred to volunteer attorneys.

Before accepting an appeal, all attorneys must attend a training program conducted by experts in the field. In a very few cases, distance training via DVD is available for those unable to attend in person. Each participant, upon accepting a referral, will receive:
  • a free copy of the latest version of the Veterans Benefit Manual (hard copy, CD-ROM and web-based update capability)

  • a comprehensive guide to litigating veterans’ benefits claims;
  • a memorandum discussing the facts and legal issues in the appeal;
  • the name and telephone number of the veterans’ law specialist who screened the case; and the name and telephone number of an assigned mentor from one of the sponsoring organizations, who specializes in this area of the law.

Mentors are available to discuss litigation strategy, provide sample briefs, review draft pleadings, and conduct a moot court if oral argument is granted.

There are many ways an attorney can do pro bono work. But participating in the Veterans Consortium Pro Bono Program offers several advantages:
  • The program provides one of the few opportunities to obtain appellate litigation experience while performing pro bono service. In addition to brief writing, some cases involve oral argument before a panel of three judges.
  • Representation before the Court can provide an opportunity to make new law. Since the Court is relatively new, some of the cases present issues of first impression.
  • The program provides significant support and training to ensure that your time is used effectively:
  • cases are prescreened for merit in advance of assignment;
  • volunteer lawyers are quickly oriented to the case with a memorandum describing the facts and legal issues;
  • further assistance is available both from the assigned case-monitor and assigned mentor;
  • volunteers participate in an in-depth full-day training program by experts, and receive a detailed practice manual after case referral.
  • Malpractice insurance is provided.
  • CLE credits are available in many states for the classroom seminar. Attendees must initiate the process individually with the CLE administrator in the state for which they seek CLE credit.

More Information:

Monday, September 8, 2008

VA To Allow Voter Registration Drives At Facilities

In an important reversal, the Veterans Administration apparently backed off a new policy banning voter registration drives at their facilities. Hundreds of thousands of veterans resident at VA facilities are once again able to enjoy the same voter registration drive rights as other American citizens.

Of course, someone has to execute these registration drives, but that's another subject.

The VA Press Release:
VA Clarifies Voter Registration Regulations
"September 8, 2008 - WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced today it has clarified its policy on assisting veterans’ voter registration activities, with particular focus on inpatients and residents of VA community living centers, domiciliaries and patients with limited access to community voter registration resources.

The Department will welcome state and local election officials and non-partisan groups to its hospitals and outpatient clinics to assist VA officials in registering voters at VA facilities. Such assistance, however, must be coordinated by those facilities in order to avoid disruptions to patient care.

“VA has always been committed to helping veterans exercise their constitutional right to vote, which they defended for all Americans while serving their nation,” said Dr. James B. Peake, Secretary of Veterans Affairs. “We’ve now established a uniform approach to helping those of our patients who need assistance to register and to vote.”

The policy requires that information about the right of VA patients to register and vote, and other patients’ rights, be posted in every VA hospital, and that all VA patients be provided a copy of these rights when they are admitted to a VA facility.

Every hospital is now also required to publish a written policy on voter assistance, allowing patients to leave the hospital to register and vote, subject to the opinions of their health care providers. Patients unable to leave the facility must be assisted to register and to vote by absentee ballot.

In their written policies, VA hospital are required to establish the criteria they will use to evaluate requests from outside agencies to register voters, and to determine where, when, and how such registration activities will be conducted. They will also develop procedures to coordinate offers of assistance from state and local governments and from non-partisan organizations, and how to work with VA’s Regional Counsel offices to determine whether or not groups offering registration help are non-partisan, as required by law.

Voluntary Service Program Managers at each of VA’s 153 hospitals will be responsible for implementing the new policy, and for providing timely and accurate voting information to veterans cared for at their facilities. They will also obtain and maintain materials that are needed to assist veterans with voter registration requirements."
The next step: ensure every veteran has the easy opportunity to register to vote, and to cast a vote!

A big shout-out and thanks-for-the-heads-up to Larry Scott at VA Watchdog!

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Sunday, September 7, 2008

IAVA's Top Ten Issues....

From Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, a few things to think about:
"With the new president in office next year, America will have the chance to turn the page on the way veterans were treated after Vietnam. Below are the top 10 actions the new president must take:

1. Ensure Thorough, Professional, and Confidential Mental Health Screening

IAVA supports mandatory and confidential mental health and TBI screening by a mental health professional for all troops, both before and at least 90 days after a combat tour.

2. Advance-Fund VA Health Care

Year after year, the VA budget is passed late, forcing hundreds of veterans' hospitals and clinics to ration care. IAVA believes the only way to ensure timely funding of veterans' health care is to fund the program one year in advance. In addition, IAVA endorses the annual Independent Budget, produced by leading Veterans Service Organizations including the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Disabled American Veterans, Paralyzed Veterans of America, and AMVETS, as the blueprint for VA funding levels.

3. Overhaul the Military and Veterans' Disability System

IAVA believes the military and veterans' disability system needs a fundamental overhaul to streamline the process and provide adequate benefits to our wounded troops.

4. Cut the Claims Backlog in Half

Hundreds of thousands of disabled veterans are awaiting an answer from the VA on their benefits claims. Without this crucial source of income, many are struggling to make ends meet. The claims backlog must be cut in half with the new president's first year in office.

5. End the Passive VA System

The VA offers a wide array of benefits and services - but many veterans do not know what they are eligible for. The VA must do much more to aggressively advertise their services, especially online and in rural areas, and ensure that eligible veterans are receiving the care and benefits they have earned.

6. Combat the Shortage of Mental Health Professionals

The VA must be authorized to bolster its mental health workforce with adequate psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers to meet the demands of returning Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. IAVA also supports increased funding for Vet Centers to alleviate staffing shortfalls. Furthermore, the next president should issue a national call to service, bolstered by incentives, for mental health care workers in America.

The Department of Defense must address current shortages of mental health professionals. IAVA recommends a study of reasons for attrition among military mental health professionals, and the creation of new recruitment and retention incentives for mental health care providers, such as scholarships or college loan forgiveness.

7. Create Tax Incentives for Patriotic Employers

IAVA supports tax credits for the hiring of veterans, including National Guardsmen and Reservists, and those at risk for homelessness. IAVA recommends tax credits for employers who, when their reserve component employees are called to active duty for over 90 days, continue to support their employees by paying the difference between the servicemembers' civilian salary and their military wages.

8. Fight Homelessness among Veterans

50,000 new vouchers should be issued to house homeless veterans and the next president should end homelessness among veterans by the end of his first term.

9. Give Families Access to Mental Health Support

Military families should have improved access to mental health services, and active-duty families should be given unlimited access to mental health care, including family and marital counseling, on military bases. Families should also be given more effective training in the warning signs and effects of psychological injuries.

IAVA supports the creation of new VA programs to provide family and marital counseling for veterans receiving VA mental health treatment.

Congress should appropriate funding so that the military can formalize and coordinate the current volunteer family support services for the families of deployed servicemembers.

10. Repeal the Waiver of High-Deployment Pay

IAVA opposes the Secretary of Defense's use of national security waivers to avoid paying servicemembers "high deployment allowances" of $1,000/month. The high deployment allowance should be enforced, and should include servicemembers who are currently in a combat theatre and have served more than 365 days in a hazardous duty zone over the past two years (for active-duty troops) or over the past five years (for those in the reserve component)"

IMO, it's hard to quarrel with these!

Monday, September 1, 2008

Avoiding or Resolving Employment Issues Through ESGR

Adapted from Employer Support of Guard and Reserve:

Each employer has a role in maintaining a strong national defense. Today, the National Guard and Reserve are an integral part of our defense forces. More than half of the men and women serving in our armed forces are members of the National Guard and Reserve.

Employer Support of Guard and Reserve: provides a variety of resources for employers and Service members to further understanding and compliance to the Uniformed Services Employment and Re-employment Rights Act (USERRA), including Ombudsman services, and employer outreach, through a network of DoD volunteers available throughout the country.

Proactive employer programs include outreach directed towards known employers of the Guard and Reserve, as identified by the Civilian Employment Information (CEI) initiative through the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel & Readiness. To that end, ESGR conducts the Statement of Support Program.

ESGR also conducts an award program designed to recognize employers for employment policies and practices that are supportive of their employees' participation in the National Guard and Reserve. All employer recognition and awards originate from nominations by individual Reserve component members (see Online Forms section).

The primary means of assistance in preventing, resolving, or reducing employer and/or employee problems and misunderstandings that result from National Guard or Reserve membership is done through a nationwide Ombudsman Program. The Ombudsman Services Program provides information, informal mediation, and referral service to resolve employer conflicts. ESGR is not an enforcement agency and does not offer legal counsel or advice. ESGR also does not have statutory authority to participate in any formal litigation process.

ESGR also provides a toolkit of resources for employers and Service members pertaining to sample military leave policies and USERRA training.

ESGR can be very helpful in avoiding or resolving problems involving servicemembers and civilian employers. Learn more: