The City Bar Honors Veterans

By Elizabeth Kocienda and Kent Eiler As we pause this Veterans Day to honor the service and sacrifice of both active duty and retired service members and their families, we would like to take this opportunity to talk about what we can do as lawyers to support them. Here at the City Bar, those efforts are led by our Military Affairs and Justice Committee and the City Bar Justice Center’s Veterans Assistance Project.  Our committee members and dedicated staff strive to advocate for commonsense policies to promote the well-being of the military community and provide pro bono legal services for low-income veterans. The Military Affairs and Justice Committee works at the state and federal level to address legal and policy issues affecting the United States armed services. Through a combination of educational events, substantive reports and direct advocacy, the Committee aims to bring attention and promote change on a wide range of issues affecting military members and their families. The Committee has issued reports to support the repeal of the military’s “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy and to ensure voting rights for service members. In collaboration with the Sex and Law Committee, the Committee issued a series of reports to address the myriad issues surrounding sexual assault in the military. Included in their work was support for the Military Justice Improvement Act, which would change the designation of key decision-making authority for courts martial, and recommendations to the Military Justice Review Group on ways to improve the military justice system. Most recently, the Committee has focused their efforts on improving the lives of military personnel and their families stationed in New York. Led by the NY Military Families Subcommittee, the Committee has supported state legislation that would ease the process by which a military spouse obtains a professional license, certification or registration. Licensure constraints represent one of the most significant financial hurdles for military families. By allowing military spouses who already have an out-of-state license that meets or exceeds New York’s standards to begin working sooner, the legislation would remove a significant and unnecessary burden for military families ordered to New York. Over the past year, the Committee has written a report, multiple letters and an op-ed, while securing the support of a number of organizations, including the White House, and advocating for the bill’s passage in Albany. Given the unanimous support the legislation received in the Senate during the past two sessions and the fact that New York is the only state that does not provide a level of licensure reciprocity for military spouses, the Committee is hopeful the bill will move forward and secure support from the Assembly and Governor in 2016. In addition to supporting these legislative and policy changes, the City Bar Justice Center aims to promote the well being of our nation’s veterans through the Veterans Assistance Project (VAP).  VAP was launched in October 2007 and is designed to meet the needs of the approximately 200,000 veterans living in New York City by providing low income veterans with pro bono assistance with disability benefits claims before the New York City Regional Office of Veterans Affairs. Through its free intake hotline and monthly legal clinics, VAP provides brief advice and services, assesses possible legal remedies and helps veterans file claims and appeals with the Department of Veterans Affairs. Assistance can range from locating service documents and medical records, to preparing and filing claims, to directly representing veterans at hearings. The Project is also designed to be flexible so it can respond to the constantly shifting needs of the veteran population. One such example is its work over recent years to help veterans who were sexually assaulted during their time in the military with their Military Sexual Trauma (MST) claims. Since its inception, VAP has helped more than 1,200 veterans, with approximately $3.8 million in retroactive benefits recovered for its clients in addition to ongoing disability benefits. Today, on Veterans Day, VAP is rolling out a new informational video series that will provide background information on veterans law issues to veterans, veterans’ families, and their supporters. The City Bar is proud to support members of the U.S. armed forces and their families through the services of its Military Affairs and Justice Committee and Veterans Assistance Project. Elizabeth Kocienda is the City Bar’s Associate Director of Advocacy, and Kent Eiler is the Director of the City Bar Justice Center’s Veterans Assistance Project