Veterans’ Questions Answered by ACBA Volunteers

By Lisa Wolfe
For The Lawyers Journal

Approximately 600 deserving military members, veterans and their families received well-needed advice as a result of the Allegheny County Bar Association’s first-ever Military and Veteran Legal Advice Day.

The idea for this event came about in two distinct ways. Tom Loftus, the ACBA’s director of media and public relations, remembers reading an article about World War II that said nearly 1,000 WWII veterans are dying everyday. Loftus wanted to find a way for the ACBA to do something for the veterans that have done so much for this country.

At the same time, the Military and Veterans Affairs Committee of the ACBA was forming to assist both active-duty military members and veterans with any legal issues they may be facing.

Loftus and the committee came together and developed the idea to partner with KDKA for Military and Veteran Legal Advice Day. PNC, a strong supporter of the ACBA and its events, was happy to sponsor this worthy project. This four hour call-in program was held Feb. 22 from 4 – 8 p.m.

“The committee really recognized a need in our community,” said Bob Racunas, ACBA president. “After recognizing the needs of our men and women in the military, as well as our veterans and their families, the committee was able to quickly mobilize and put this event together.”

“We had no trouble getting volunteers on board,” Loftus said. “Our members were proud to be associated with such an event. In fact, we had more volunteers than we were able to use.”

To ensure all the volunteer attorneys felt comfortable answering calls from military members, veterans and their families, Lorrie Albert, the ACBA’s pro bono coordinator, arranged with PBI to present “Legal issues affecting military personnel,” a CLE was previously used by the both the Pennsylvania and Philadelphia Bar Associations to train volunteers interested in learning more about issues affecting military members.

In addition, Bridget Gillespie, a former Army JAG and chair of the available services list subcommittee, along with Margaret Cassidy and Michael McCarthy, put together a comprehensive manual volunteer attorneys could reference during the call-in program.

“We got together to brainstorm on what types of calls we would receive,” said Gillespie. “We figured many calls would be a hybrid between legal issues and veterans benefits concerns and we wanted to provide materials useful for a variety of situations.”

This being the first time an event like this has been held for such a niche audience, Loftus wasn’t sure what the military response would be. With each volunteer receiving an average of 16 calls, on topics ranging from veterans benefits and pensions to divorce and bankruptcy, its obvious there is a need for events like this in the future.

Charles “Chip” Holsworth, military and veterans committee chair, believes the program was an overwhelming success as far as providing a worthy service to the military and veteran community. However, Holsworth was surprised by the number of callers requesting information about veterans benefits, an area many volunteer attorneys were not familiar with. Questions the volunteer attorneys were unable to answer were referred to the appropriate administrative agency.

“I think we provided a useful service,” said Gillespie. “I had several callers specifically say ‘thank you for doing this and taking time to answer my questions.’ I would be more than willing to participate in this event in the future.”