Serving Those Who Serve

On Veterans Day, President Barack Obama recognized those who have served in the United States military by renewing a promise to make them the “best-cared for, best-treated, best-respected veterans in the world.

At the traditional wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery, the president spoke of a “sacred obligation” owed to our veterans “now, tomorrow and forever,” but he followed with a more specific assurance to veterans waiting on a sluggish disability claims process.

“We’re going to keep reducing the claims backlog,” Obama said. “We’ve slashed it by a third since March, and we’re going to keep at it so you can get the benefits that you have earned and that you need, when you need them.”

What the president didn’t mention is that the effort to expedite these claims is backed by the American Bar Association (ABA), Legal Services Corp. and attorneys who volunteer their time to help properly substantiate veterans’ claims for disability benefits.

The months-long backlog is due in large part to the fact that the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) must carefully verify all disability claims, but those claims often lack key information or are filed in ways that make them painstaking to confirm. Lawyers who register with the Veterans’ Claims Assistance Network can offer their expertise to veterans in need by helping them develop complete and organized claims that can be processed as quickly as possible.

The Veterans’ Claims Assistance Network got off the ground earlier this year as a pilot program in Chicago and St. Petersburg, Fla., but it expects to expand nationwide in the coming months. Although disability claims are being filed with the VA in record numbers year over year, the department has established a goal of eliminating the claims backlog by 2015. Lawyers who want to pitch in on the pro bono effort can register online here.

ABA President James R. Silkenat also took the occasion of Veterans Day to remind the nation’s attorneys that there are several more programs through which they can serve soldiers who’ve sacrificed to defend the democratic rule of law. Chief among them is the Military Pro Bono Project, which connects active-duty military personnel with pro bono civil attorneys who can help with legal issues that are often complicated by overseas deployment, such as child custody, mortgage disputes and property repossession. Lawyers can also help out with Operation Stand-By, which allows military attorneys to ask specialized civilian lawyers for advice on behalf of servicemember clients.

Tens of thousands of soldiers are scheduled to return from Afghanistan in the coming year. Some of those will come home to legal snarls that became entangled during their service, while others will return with debilitating injuries that require expensive, specialized care. For these servicemembers who have sacrificed so much, their warmest welcome could come from the attorneys who ensure that the law will work on their behalf.