MBA Dial-A-Lawyer helps answer veterans’ pressing legal questions

Issue June 2009 By Kelsey Sadoff

In an effort to help veterans struggling to obtain and hold onto their federal and local benefits, the Massachusetts Bar Association offered free legal advice to more than 80 callers at its April 30 Veterans Dial-A-Lawyer program.

The program, which is devoted exclusively to addressing the legal needs of veterans, has answered hundreds of calls from veterans or their family members since it was launched in 2007.

“The information we give helps direct people to the resources they need so that they can get detailed help,” said volunteer attorney Jason M. Cotton of Peabody & Arnold LLP in Boston. Many of the calls on April 30 involved the financial strains of bankruptcy, divorce and alimony.

According to Gail Cavanaugh-McAuliffe, a paralegal with the Department of Veterans Services, the MBA’s Veterans Dial-A-Lawyer program is gaining popularity in the veteran community as individuals become “more and more aware of it and are looking for the next one.” In addition, the MBA’s program “helps vets who can’t afford attorneys get answers to basic questions. In this economic environment, there are so many more questions relative to finances and debt problems that they can get basic answers to over the phone without having to incur another financial burden.”

The Veterans Dial-A-Lawyer is provided as a public service of the MBA with the financial support of the Massachusetts Bar Foundation, the philanthropic partner of the MBA. The MBA has partnered with the Massachusetts Department of Veterans’ Services on the program.

“From the sound of the people I have spoken to — they appreciate the assistance and deserve it,” said attorney Paul J. Carchidi, a sole practitioner in Brockton.

In addition, veterans’ service officers helped the volunteer attorneys answer legal questions. Veterans’ service officers work at the local level to help veterans obtain access to existing federal, state and local benefits and service, including financial assistance for food, shelter and medical coverage.

John Hogan, an officer for Mansfield, and Anton Materna, an officer for Rockland, were both at the April 30 program. They said Massachusetts is unique because veterans’ service officers are available in every town with a population over 12,000, while officers are only available at the county level in other states.

“It is surprising to me that it is the Vietnam-era veterans that I am seeing as a result of the economy. I was anticipating more from the current situation,” said Hogan. “Troops in Iraq fall into two categories: The National Guard and Reserves — with guaranteed jobs when they get back — and active duty troops that are an all-volunteer army. Many of them are staying in and making a career.”

“Having worked on this program since 2007, I have seen that there is a definitive need for this initiative in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. So many of our veterans are experiencing legal issues, and this program offers them an opportunity to discuss their problems with an attorney at no cost. This is incredibly helpful to the veteran and it also gives the attorneys an opportunity to give back to the community,” said MBA Director of Public and Community Services Elizabeth A. O’Neil. “The MBA thanks both the Massachusetts Bar Foundation and the Department of Veteran Services for their continued support.”