Richard Pena and Terry Tottenham 2017-10-19 01:34:04
How Texas Lawyers for Texas Veterans helps those in need. Foreword As I go around the state speaking to teachers, veterans, and bar associations on my experiences serving in Vietnam and the lessons from my book, Last Plane Out of Saigon, I am struck by the immense need veterans have for legal guidance. I’m also impressed by the fine work Texas Lawyers for Texas Veterans, which is modeled after a program started in 2008 by the Houston Bar Association, is doing for veterans across the state. Those of us from the Vietnam era will remember the turbulent times, and the rest have heard about the student marches and mayhem. My story—and the basis of my book—begins with being drafted after my first year of law school. The Army sent me to Vietnam and assigned me to the 3rd Field Hospital in Saigon as an operating room specialist. Pursuant to the Paris Peace Accords, I left on the last day of American military involvement in the war in March 1973. Thirty years later, I led a delegation of lawyers to Vietnam as part of an international exchange. While visiting the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), we discovered a picture hanging in the museum showing other soldiers and me getting on a plane. The caption underneath the photograph read, “Last Plane Out.” Upon returning to America, I pulled out the journal I had kept while in Vietnam and the notes are the basis of Last Plane Out of Saigon, which is co-authored by award winning scholar John Hagan. I have been fortunate enough to share my experience and book with audiences across Texas. A key part of my presentations is my interaction with veterans. At every speaking engagement, veterans or their family members come up to me and share their stories, which hold powerful insights into the needs of our veterans. What I have learned is that the war is never over for the veteran. For those who served, war lives on for the rest of their lives. War ripples out and affects the families and other loved ones too. The following excerpt from my book offers a small glimpse into the chaos of war: Americans began dying in Vietnam in 1961, and 11 years later, they are still dying here. Yet the debate continues, with the debaters apparently unwilling to see that the “rightness” or “wrongness” of this war has become academic. But they are not the ones who have seen the toll this war has taken on humanity. They have not seen tens of thousands of refugees marching homeless from their destructed homes. They have not watched as an American soldier, with the physique of a varsity athlete, had his leg amputated. They have not held that leg once it was detached and wondered if this was not a page from the insanity depicted in Catch 22. Passages like this one allow us to better understand our veterans who return home grappling with post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, or who have trouble integrating back into everyday life. In fact, those who work closely with veterans’ issues expect to see a rise in PTSD and other psychological disorders because of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Others who work with homeless veterans have indicated that often what stands between a veteran becoming homeless or not is legal advice. Our veterans need our help and it is our duty to provide it. Texas Lawyers for Texas Veterans addresses the legal needs of our veterans and their families. We ask you to stand up, volunteer, or start a TLTV clinic and help those who have fought for our freedoms. — Richard Pena Texas Lawyers for Texas Veterans Past Patterned after the highly successful Houston Bar Association program, Texas Lawyers for Texas Veterans, or TLTV, was implemented in July 2010 by the State Bar of Texas to develop and assist pro bono legal advice clinics for military veterans and their families throughout the state. Texas has the second-highest population of veterans in the nation, and a distressing number of Texas veterans are living in poverty or without homes. As a result, some don’t have the resources, financial or otherwise, to seek and retain legal counsel. TLTV provides essential resources that enable local bar associations and legal aid organizations to provide veterans the civil legal assistance they need and deserve. Present Since the project’s launch, more than 28,000 veterans have been served by more than 9,000 volunteer attorneys, paralegals, and law students through local bar association and legal aid organization veterans legal clinics in Texas. Over 580 veterans received limited-scope or full-scale representation from these organizations this year. The State Bar of Texas TLTV hotline receives daily calls from veterans looking for referrals to local clinics or other resources. Their legal needs vary, but many common issues include will execution, benefits issues, and family law. More than 25 bar associations and organizations are currently participating statewide, including the Amarillo Area Bar Association, Austin Bar Association, Baylor Law School, Bell County Bar Association, Dallas Bar Association, Denton County Bar Association, El Paso Bar Association, Houston Bar Association, Jefferson County Bar Association, Legal Aid of NorthWest Texas, Lone Star Legal Aid, San Antonio Bar Association, and Tarrant County Bar Association. Clinics would not be possible without committed volunteers. Attorneys across the state have dedicated thousands of hours to serve our veterans. Local universities have provided many clinics with pre-law/law students who can earn pro bono hours and are mentored through the program. Local paralegal organizations provide many clinics with effective administrative volunteers as well. Most local bars offer advice to veterans who are referred to them, no matter their income eligibility. Veterans continue to be grateful for the support and assistance they receive through the program; however, many veterans remain in need of legal assistance. The Texas Access to Justice Commission, with its co-sponsor, the State Bar of Texas, honored veterans throughout the state at the 2017 Champions of Justice Gala Benefiting Veterans. More than $560,200 was raised to help provide civil legal services to low-income Texas veterans. Proceeds are distributed by the Texas Access to Justice Foundation, or TAJF, and dedicated to the provision of civil legal services for low-income Texas veterans. During the gala, the TAJF announced the launch of the Joe Jamail Endowment for Veteran Legal Services, an endowment fund created by Houston attorney Richard Mithoff in honor of the late Joe Jamail, longtime supporter of the gala and stalwart advocate of legal services to the poor in Texas. The endowment was created to ensure that Texas veterans who qualify for legal aid have fair and equitable access to the justice system. TAJF currently provides funding to 15 nonprofit organizations throughout the state that provide free legal services to veterans with civil legal matters including the denial of critical medical care, legal issues related to disabilities, family law matters, the denial of benefits, and other issues that may arise due to a veteran’s absence from home during military service. Every year, these organizations provide free legal services to more than 8,000 Texas veterans. The Joe Jamail Endowment for Veteran Legal Services will allow these organizations to expand upon that work. TAJF also coordinated the Texas Veterans Legal Aid Week, a statewide effort in honor of Veterans Day. During the week of November 6-12, 2016, legal aid programs, local bar associations, law schools, and pro bono private lawyers provided civil legal services for qualified Texas veterans in various locations throughout the state. The Texas Young Lawyers Association produced the informative pamphlets Resources for Veterans Seeking Help and Resources for Lawyers Assisting Veterans. If you’d like to request these pamphlets, please contact the State Bar of Texas Public Information Department at email@example.com. Future Citing TLTV as an example, the American Bar Association’s past president Linda Klein created the Veterans Legal Services Commission and is leading an effort to take the State Bar’s veterans initiative nationwide. If you are interested in starting a clinic or partnering with an existing clinic, please contact the Local Bar Services Department at (800) 204-2222, ext. 1514, or firstname.lastname@example.org. This department can provide resources like the Clinic in a Box or the Veterans Clinic Marketing Tool Kit that will assist you in establishing a clinic and keeping it going. The Clinic in a Box contains everything an organization needs to host a veterans legal clinic—applications, forms, office supplies, and more. The tool kit provides in-depth resources to organize and publicize local veterans legal clinics to potential veterans and volunteer attorneys. Local bar associations are always in need of volunteers for their veterans legal clinics. Veterans will be thankful for any level of service you can commit. For many, just getting to talk one-on-one with an attorney for 15 minutes can relieve a huge burden. — Terry Tottenham RICHARD PENA is a past president of the State Bar of Texas and the American Bar Foundation. He is a Vietnam veteran having left on the last day of American military involvement. He is co-author of the book Last Plane Out of Saigon. TERRY TOTTENHAM is of counsel to Norton Rose Fulbright in Austin. As State Bar president, he initiated Texas Lawyers for Texas Veterans.
Published by State Bar of Texas. View All Articles.