Thursday, September 11, 2014

Patriot’s Day - How Law Firms and Lawyers Support the U.S. Military and Veterans*

Law firms and lawyers throughout the United States represent, support and/or help the people who help create, protect and defend freedoms - for Americans, their allies, friends and citizens of other nations worldwide. America is the land of the free, because of the brave!
The military – past, present and future are the key people who are so critical to the freedoms and way of life U.S. citizens enjoy. The U.S. military consists of current troops and service members: Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, Coast Guard, National Guard and all Reservists; veterans and veterans’ organizations such as The American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), and others; POWs (Prisoners of War); those still MIA (Missing in Action); past and present Judge Advocate General's Corps members (JAGs); and all the other civil servants who are employed by the military and those who support active military service members and veterans worldwide.
Without these millions of people and their commitment, effort, work, sacrifice, service and dedication − as well as the loving support of their spouses, children, parents, friends and other backers − our Republic and democracy as we know it and our cherished freedoms would not exist as they do today.
Throughout history, lawyers have played integral roles at many levels to help shape, build, deploy, maintain, manage and support the U.S. military and veterans. For example, in the highest elected role within the U.S. government, President of the United States (POTUS) − who is also the Commander in Chief of the United States Armed Forces − approximately 26 holders of that office were or are lawyers and 21 of them served in the U.S. military (not to mention POTUS Cabinet members, counsel and advisors over the years, many of whom have been or are lawyers). 

Today, approximately 20% of the members of the U.S. Congress have served in the military, and approximately 35% are lawyers. Many Senators and Congressmen who are lawyers have worked in outside law firms or as in-house counsel either before being elected to serve or after their government service ends. In addition, many who currently serve or have served in the administrative branches of government (at federal, regional, state and/or local levels) are also lawyers.  

Private law firms of all sizes and lawyers of all types also help support the military. This may not be in any official governmental capacity, but through formal representation, pro bono representation and efforts, charitable contributions, employment assistance, employee volunteer programs and other ways.   

The majority of law firms that formally represent members of the military, veterans and their families are in the small to mid-size range, which allows them to maintain a lower hourly rate structure and more flexibility regarding flat and fixed fees for certain types of legal work needed.

One Michigan-based law firm named Legal Help for Veterans PLLC represents veterans and their families in disability claims such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), orthopedic issues, surviving spouse pensions and other issues.
Gordon Thomas Honeywell, a Pacific Northwest law firm with offices in Seattle and Tacoma, often represents veterans in employment and discrimination cases. The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) prohibits harassment, discrimination and retaliation against military members related to their service.  
For lawyers whose practice already includes representing members of the military and/or veterans or for those lawyers/law firms interested in doing so, the American Bar Association (ABA) website offers over 7,000 resources which can be accessed by visiting the site and typing “Veterans” in the search bar.  Pro bono representation opportunities to help veterans and their families abound.
Larger law firms also represent veterans. For example, Steptoe & Johnson partner Stephen Fennell, Chair of the firm’s Litigation Group, serves as lead counsel for his firm which since 2002 has represented Gulf War POWs in a contentious, high-profile lawsuit against Iraq for damages arising out of the torture of the POWs while they were in captivity. 
At the grass roots level, law firms around the country participate in Adopt the Troops/Solider/Platoon campaigns. For example, the Pacific Northwest-based law firm of Cairncross & Hempelmann had a firm employee whose family member was serving as a Marine with a platoon stationed in Iraq.  The firm informally “adopted” the platoon for the holidays (and beyond), which included contacting local military organizations to learn what they could send in “care packages,” how to send them and where.
Law schools around the country also support veterans. A number of law schools (including Harvard) provide scholarships and/or tuition assistance for veterans, and several law school clinical programs provide training to help veterans handle VA benefits claims and appeals.
Every lawyer, law firm, law firm and legal industry employee can help support U.S. troops, veterans and/or their families if they so desire. There are many great ways to do so, and many efforts/charities/groups exist.  Excellent and bona fide pro bono and/or volunteer programs that support veterans can be found by contacting:  The American Legion (; the VFW (; the ABA ( and/or state bars.
To volunteer and/or donate in the most productive manner, be sure to first verify the group/organization (because not all veterans’ charities/organizations use/apply their donations legitimately). Websites to visit to verify charities’ track records include: the American Institute of Philanthropy, Charity Navigator and/or GuideStar.
*This article is not intended to be 100% complete or exhaustive. It contains representative information known to the author at the time of publication and as space allowed.

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