With Thanks for Those Doing Legal Work in
Support of Our Veterans
By Ted A. Donner
Buried among all the prognostications on this election, Matt Pfeiffer’s steady stream of memes, and yet another series of ads for Aaron Sorkin’s on-line screenwriting course, a few weeks ago, there was this Facebook post from Jeff Jacobson:
“Today, I spent a few hours working on a client that has a major financial problem: debts, foreclosure, bankruptcy, more debts, medical bills, and the inability to pay for his prescriptions. They are old and he is a veteran. After helping them, and they were relieved to have a solution that helps them, they asked how much for my time. I had been thinking about this for a long time before I met them. I said that I could not take any money because he is a veteran. He thanked me and was very happy. But, I felt great just helping a veteran.”
A great many of us clicked “like” or added a comment about the importance of what Jeff was doing and it was certainly gratifying to see (once again) how people who often disagree over so much in politics can come together when it comes to the importance of doing such work for veterans. Jeff’s post was also a reminder, however, that despite all they do for this country, how much our veterans risk and sacrifice, we don’t do a whole lot for them when they get back home. We need to recognize how much we as a community should be doing for veterans, particularly given how much their needs involve a lack of access to legal services.
A June 2016 study by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs found that most of the issues facing homeless veterans stem from an inability to get legal assistance. Indeed, according to the DVA study, among the problems most likely to lead to veteran homelessness are evictions and foreclosures, child support, outstanding warrants and fines, discharge upgrades and qualifying for benefits. 1 ABA President Linda Klein thus recognized how important lawyers can be in such circumstances when she announced that her term in office will focus on an ABA Veterans Legal Service Initiative. “[W]hen members of my law firm were volunteering at a homeless shelter,” she said, “I learned that over half of the needs that veterans have who are homeless are legal. I knew that veterans are people who have worked so hard to protect the rule of law, to save our democracy..., the things that we went to law school to do....[So I also knew] that lawyers, of all the professions, would want to come together to help veterans.”2
Two people who have done a lot to further our bar association’s commitment to helping veterans are Terry Benshoof, our Veterans Day Chair, and Tim Whelan, Chair of our Veterans Assistance Initiative. Terry served as a Judge Advocate in the Army Reserve for some 28 years before his honorable discharge and is a current Chapter Secretary and former Chapter President of the Military Officers Association of America. He has been responsible for our Veterans Day programming for many years and has done a yeoman’s job for the program again this year.3
Tim was commissioned as a second lieutenant for the Army Reserve in 1974. He was promoted to first lieutenant and then captain in 1982, serving in that capacity until his honorable discharge in 1987. In his capacity as Chair of DCBA’s Veterans Assistance Initiative, part of Tim’s focus has been on the work of John Marshall Law School’s Veterans Legal Support Center and Clinic. The Center provides real-world experience for law students who help ensure free legal assistance is available to veterans with issues involving discharge status or the Veterans Benefits Administration. The Center’s Executive Director, Brian Clauss, is scheduled to speak at our Veterans Day Luncheon on November 10 this year, where he will talk about the work that’s being done where he will talk about the work that’s being done and how lawyers in DuPage County can help.
It is comforting to know that, like many in the DuPage County Bar Association, Jeff Jacobson, Tim Whelan and Terry Benshoof are helping veterans in ways only a lawyer can, but it is also true that there is more that we can do as an organization. So today, as we look ahead to this year’s Veterans Day program, it seems a good time to remember what President John F. Kennedy said in his last Thanksgiving message, just two weeks before he passed away in 1963: “As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.”
1. United States Department of Veterans Affairs, Community Homelessness Assessment, Local Education and Networking Groups, Fact Sheet (June 2016). See also Bergmark and Lawton, One Reasons So Many Veterans Are Homeless? They Can’t Afford Lawyers, Washington Post (July 8, 2016).
2. ABA Veterans Legal Services Commission video (posted on August 9, 2016). Visit www.americanbar.org/news/abanews/aba-news-archives/2016/08/aba_president_linda1.html.
3. This year’s Veterans Day Luncheon will be on November 10, 2016 in the Attorney Resource Center and will benefit the Midwest Shelter for Homeless Veterans. See “Where to Be,” elsewhere in this issue.