ALBANY-Recognizing the increasing unmet legal needs of military veterans and active service members, New York State Bar Association President Vincent E. Doyle III has created the Special Committee on Veterans to find innovative ways to expand critical legal assistance to veterans statewide.
"The theme of the State Bar this year is 'Justice for All.'" said Doyle of Buffalo (Connors & Vilardo). "This includes veterans and military personnel--they should be treated fairly by the legal system, and not suffer as a result of their service. Sadly, too many come home from war with myriad problems that seem insurmountable. Some fear that a request for help could be seen as a sign of weakness. They may even hesitate to seek legal assistance for something as simple as accessing entitlements like military benefits."
Doyle added, "While there are many lawyers across New York State who want to help, they need more specialized training, particularly in understanding military culture and available federal benefits. This committee is a big step forward in helping to meet the needs of the brave individuals who have given so much for this country."
With its Special Committee on Veterans, the State Bar Association has gathered a network of attorneys familiar with veterans issues that will focus on the unique legal needs of military veterans and service members.
Its goals are to:
• expand the availability of civil legal services to veterans throughout the state;
• develop a model training program for lawyers on veterans issues that can be replicated statewide;
• establish more veterans courts, similar to those now operating in Erie County, Monroe County, Queens County and Suffolk County;
• increase public awareness about military culture, substance abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury;
• create a legal resource guide for veterans and attorneys.
Committee co-chairs are Karen R. Hennigan of Brooklyn and Michael C. Lancer of Buffalo. Hennigan, a major in the U.S. Air Force Reserve, is an Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York. Lancer, a former military attorney who served in the U.S. Army Judge Advocate General's Corps, is a partner at Rupp, Baase, Pfalzgraf, Cunningham & Coppola in Buffalo.
"When dealing with veterans as a group, we tend to see the same problems over and over again. These include drug and alcohol abuse, mental health problems, domestic violence and homelessness. This tells me we are not doing enough on a societal level," said Lancer. "If we address these issues more proactively, we will see fewer veterans in court."
"The legal needs of veterans are not necessarily unique or complex, but the people are. The military experience may affect how veterans cope and interact with others," said Hennigan.
The committee's full report and recommendations are expected in April 2012.
The 77,000-member New York State Bar Association is the largest voluntary state bar association in the nation. It was founded in 1876. For more information, visit www.nysba.org/newscenter.
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