Lawyers Journal

Veterans seek help in largest turnout yet for program

The Visiting Lawyer Program provided legal advice and information to two dozen veterans and their relatives on June 17 at the Holyoke Soldiers Home, the most well-attended program yet.

The free program is part of the Massachusetts Bar Association's Serving Our Veterans in the Law initiative, which includes a free weekly call-in service for veterans struggling with state and federal benefit appeals. Qualified veterans can call (617) 338-0572 on Mondays from 3 to 5 p.m. and be matched up with attorneys who agree to represent their case free of charge.

The June 17 Visiting Lawyer Program, which was the third one held in the last two years, was the best attended, as eight volunteer attorneys answered veterans questions for three hours about VA survivor benefits, burial, eviction, divorce, filing for bankruptcy, educational debt, disability benefits, wills, medical malpractice and unemployment. Each veteran, who had to register in advance, was given 15 to 20 minutes of face-to-face time with a volunteer attorney.

"What this program and the Veterans Dial-A-Lawyer program show is that there are legal issues that veterans - both old and young - are facing that need to be addressed, and this allows our members to give back to this group in a comfortable community setting," said MBA Director of Community and Public Services Elizabeth A. O'Neil.

The 24 veterans were all from Berkshire, Hampden, Hampshire and Franklin counties. Nine of the veterans served in the Army and six in the Air Force, while the rest served in the Navy, Marines and National Guard.

The program has helped about four dozen veterans in all, and is organized when a veterans group requests it. This was the last program scheduled for the 2009-10 association year.

O'Neil said that the veterans service officers in the region did a good job encouraging veterans to register for the free legal help.

"What was excellent about this program was that the veterans left feeling like their issue was resolved or that they knew where they needed to go next," O'Neil said. "The attorneys felt very good about how they spent their afternoon, and for the (MBA) staff, everyone felt like they gave something back."

The Visiting Lawyer Program is provided at no charge as a public service of the MBA with the financial support of the Massachusetts Bar Foundation, the philanthropic partner of the MBA. The MBA acknowledges its partnership with the Department of Veterans' Services and Shelter Legal Services.

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