We often hear our firm partners express a desire to cultivate and expand connections with legal service providers — so we’ll be spotlighting some great LSOs using Paladin’s free referral tools, that you can partner with directly via Paladin, to make your pro bono program more robust and successful.
What brought you to pro bono work?
For me, NVLSP is the key to helping veterans navigate a complex and overwhelming legal system.
I joined the National Veterans Legal Services Program (NVLSP) four years ago and remain driven by NVLSP’s mission. NVLSP has worked since 1981 to ensure that the government delivers to our nation’s 22 million veterans and active duty personnel the benefits to which they are entitled because of disabilities resulting from their military service to our country. For me, NVLSP is the key to helping veterans navigate a complex and overwhelming legal system. My interest in veterans’ issues is rooted in my family’s military service. Both of my grandfathers fought in World War II, and my brother is currently serving in the Army.
I serve as the Pro Bono Coordinating Attorney in NVLSP’s pro bono program Lawyers Serving Warriors®. I act as the central contact between NVLSP’s pro bono team and our partner law firms and corporate legal departments. I work with the pro bono partners to coordinate the placement and monitoring of cases and special projects, develop clinic opportunities, and train volunteer attorneys.
It is very rewarding to me when a veteran who has been fighting for many years finally receives the benefits or discharge upgrade they deserve.
One of my favorite parts of my position is working with the pro bono partners who bring enthusiasm and fresh perspectives to cases. I take great pride in the knowledge that veterans and service members are receiving high quality legal representation from our pro bono partners.
It is very rewarding to me when a veteran who has been fighting for many years finally receives the benefits or discharge upgrade they deserve. I very much appreciate being part of the process that enables veterans’ voices to be heard.
How has your work shifted since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic?
NVLSP serves veteran clients from all 50 states with volunteer lawyers located across the country. Our intake system works remotely, which enables us to continue providing pro bono legal services to veterans in much the same way since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. NVLSP has transitioned all of our clinic opportunities to virtual clinics. This has enabled us to serve veteran clients located anywhere in a clinic setting, whereas before we were only able to serve veteran clients who lived in the areas where we hosted clinics. NVLSP also worked with our pro bono partners to produce COVID-19 resources for our veteran clients.
I would recommend that an attorney looking to engage in pro bono work begins by seeking out training materials for the subject they are interested in. For an attorney interested in getting started in the veterans’ pro bono space, NVLSP has a variety of webinars available online, as well as the Veterans Benefits Manual.
What sort of short & long term opportunities bring high value to the communities you serve?
NVLSP has a variety of pro bono opportunities available to assist veterans who are seeking the disability benefits they are entitled to. NVLSP provides pro bono representation to veterans who are seeking discharge upgrades, military medical retirements, or Combat-Related Special Compensation. We also assist Military Sexual Trauma survivors in applying for service-connected disability benefits, and assist veterans seeking VA benefits at the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims and Board of Veterans’ Appeals. NVLSP also hosts clinics with our pro bono partners to assist veterans seeking discharge upgrades and military medical retirements.
What advice would you give to an attorney who hasn’t engaged in much pro bono, but is looking to start?
I would recommend that an attorney looking to engage in pro bono work begins by seeking out training materials for the subject they are interested in. For an attorney interested in getting started in the veterans’ pro bono space, NVLSP has a variety of webinars available online, as well as the Veterans Benefits Manual. The Veterans Benefits Manual is a comprehensive manual written by NVLSP attorney experts and is an indispensable guide for advocates who help veterans and their families obtain benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs. These resources are available at www.nvlsp.org.
Can you share an experience where a pro bono attorney made a significant impact for a client on an opportunity?
The National Veterans Legal Services Program (NVLSP) mentored pro bono attorneys filing a brief at the Board of Veterans’ Appeals. The volunteers assisted a 54-year-old veteran who had been appealing denials of benefits for the previous 10 years, seeking a rating of 100% for her Alzheimer’s disease. The veteran was further seeking aid and attendance compensation for her husband, also a veteran, who takes care of her. The Board of Veterans’ Appeals was persuaded by the volunteers’ brief and evidence submitted in support of the appeal. The veteran was awarded 10 years of back benefits, totaling approximately $163,000. The veteran further obtained approximately $750 in special monthly compensation based on aid and attendance and housebound criteria back to 2008.
What do you believe needs to change about the pro bono ecosystem to make justice outcomes more community centered?
The veterans’ community is well served by platforms such as Paladin that link pro bono opportunities to volunteers attorneys.
Thank you Erin and NVLSP for taking the time to speak with Paladin, and for being users of Paladin’s free tools for Legal Services Organizations. This interview is part of a broader series to highlight the incredible access to justice work performed by our partner LSOs, so stay tuned for more!