Honoring veterans by serving them

Published 8:40 am Saturday, November 7, 2015

By Allan K. DuBois and Trent Devenzio

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. And, the National Center for Veterans Analysis and Statistics has observed the poverty rate among veterans is slowly rising.

The statistics present a unique set of challenges for Texas — and a call to action. 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.

The preamble to Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct reminds all attorneys that, “[t]he provision of free legal services to those unable to pay reasonable fees is a moral obligation of each lawyer as well as the profession in general.”

No one is more deserving of a lawyer’s time and attention than our local veterans. Veterans have risked their lives, sacrificed the prime of their lives, and in some cases suffered life-altering injuries. The least that we can do as attorneys is fulfill our moral obligation by providing free or reduced-cost legal services to Southeast Texas veterans.

Through the Jefferson County Bar Association’s Veterans Legal Initiative, local attorneys provide basic advice on family law matters, will and probate questions, real estate issues, Social Security and veterans disability benefits, and consumer problems at legal clinics in Beaumont, Orange, Lumberton, Vidor, and Anahuac. Ultimately, if a case warrants, they also provide trial representation.

The bar and its attorneys also staff legal seminars at the Beaumont VA Outpatient Clinic. These seminars allow veterans to meet with local attorneys in a familiar setting on a wide range of topics.

In 2010, the State Bar of Texas created Texas Lawyers for Texas Veterans, a program that helps guide local bar associations — like Jefferson County’s — and other legal aid service providers who hold advice clinics throughout the state. Since the project’s launch more than 18,000 veterans have been served by 5,000 or more volunteer attorneys. In Southeast Texas alone 525 veterans have received help at Jefferson County seminars and clinics in the past five years.

Also, in honor of Veterans Day, free legal clinics and workshops will be held across the state 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, we have two requests: (1) if you are a Southeast Texas lawyer, please volunteer with the Jefferson County Bar Association by calling 409-835-8647; 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.

Allan K. DuBois is president of the State Bar of Texas and the owner of the Law Office of Allan K. DuBois in San Antonio, where he handles civil litigation and appeals, mediation, and arbitration. He is a former U.S. Army JAGC lawyer, who has volunteered for veterans legal clinics since their inception. 

Trent Devenzio is past president of the Jefferson County Bar Association. A partner in Branick & Devenzio in Nederland, Devenzio is board certified in personal injury trial law.