Serving Those That Serve Us: Assist Military Personnel This Veterans Day

veteransIn 1945, World War II veteran Raymond Weeks from Birmingham, Alabama, had the idea to expand Armistice Day to celebrate all veterans, not just those who had died in World War I.

Weeks has been referred to as the “Father of Veterans Day” and three years before his death in 1985, he was presented with the Presidential Citizenship Medal for being the driving force that established the national holiday.

At about that same time, in 1946, The Bar Association of San Francisco (BASF) established what is now known as the Lawyer Referral and Information Service (LRIS) as an outgrowth of the legal services it was providing to veterans returning from World War II.

Similar to Weeks’ vision to expand the definition of “veteran”, so too BASF founded LRIS using the broadest possible definition of “veteran” to include anyone in need of legal assistance.

And while LRIS has continued to serve the legal needs of veterans inside its mandate of service to the public, in 2011, LRIS reasserted a dedicated focus to helping veterans, and members of the military, with the establishment of its Military Assistance Program (MAP).

Under MAP, LRIS panel lawyers assist veterans and military personnel and their families with legal services at nominal rates in a wide variety of civil law practice areas, including family law, landlord/tenant, tax, wills, bankruptcy, consumer matters and more.

LRIS continues to deepen its relationships with the Veterans Administration, their Veterans Justice Outreach coordinators, the San Francisco Veterans Justice Court, and law school veterans groups, to help spread the word about MAP as well as the legal services available for veterans at the Justice & Diversity Center of BASF’s pro bono department.

President Obama and the Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki have established twin goals for 2015: Ending homelessness among veterans and eliminating the veterans benefit claims backlog, which remains high despite progress. With the launch this year of two notable pilot programs, the San Francisco Veterans Justice Court, and a Veterans Administration’s Medical/Legal Clinic, the link between veteran homelessness, its causes and the law comes into greater focus. Underscoring these links, an annual U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs survey shows that legal needs are among the top unmet needs of homeless and low-income veterans. Only with the critical assistance of lawyers can the goals of the Obama Administration even come within striking distance.

The exploration for how the term “veteran” can be expanded and include the many legal services necessary continues to this day, and in honor of Veteran’s Day, we are glad that it does.

Get involved in assisting veterans and military personnel through the LRIS Military Assistance Program by inquiring further with LRIS Director of Public Service Programs, Carole Conn, at 415-782-8934 or cconn@sfbar.org.