This Veterans Day, as we honor and thank the brave men and women who served in the United States military, the State Bar of Texas is keenly aware that more must be done to serve our veterans.
Texas continues to have one of the nation’s largest veteran populations. Approximately 1.7 million current Texas residents have served in the military, according to the National Center for Veterans Analysis and Statistics. We are grateful for their service.
While the national veteran population decreased 17 percent between 2000 and 2015, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs reports Texas’s veteran population has increased. Nationally, more veterans served during the Vietnam War era than other periods of service, while the Lone Star State currently registers more veterans of the Gulf War era than veterans from Vietnam.
These facts and statistics present a unique set of challenges for Texas — and a call to action. The National Center for Veterans Analysis and Statistics has observed the poverty rate among veterans is slowly rising, and Gulf War veterans have a higher poverty rate in comparison to other periods of wartime service. About 7.8 percent of the veteran population participated in the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) in 2012, up from 4.8 percent in 2009.
These men and women return from service with complicated health and living issues. No doubt many need the assistance of an attorney to help them navigate benefits and pension claims or to assist in civil or family matters.
In 2010, the State Bar of Texas created Texas Lawyers for Texas Veterans, a program that helps guide local bar associations, legal aid organizations, and veterans service providers who hold legal advice clinics throughout the state. Since the project’s launch more than 18,000 veterans and their families have been served by 5,000 or more volunteer attorneys.
I am one of those volunteer attorneys. I served in the U.S. Army Judge Advocate General Corps (JAGC), and in private practice in San Antonio, I have volunteered at legal clinics serving veterans and their families since their inception.
In honor of Veterans Day, free legal clinics and workshops will be held across the state Nov. 9-13 during what is called “Texas Veterans Legal Aid Week,” a coordinated effort by the Texas Access to Justice Foundation. For a full schedule of events go to texaslawhelp.org/veterans.
So this Veterans Day, as we honor those who have served our country, I have two requests: (1) if you are a lawyer, please volunteer with your local bar or legal aid organization; and (2) if you know a veteran who needs legal help, direct him or her to texaslawhelp.org/veterans, texasbar.com/veterans or call the State Bar of Texas at 800-204-2222 ext. 1514 for more information.