Advocate's Journal

Watson: Lawyers proudly work to assist military veterans

As Veterans Day approaches, we salute our military’s role in preserving the freedoms we sometimes take for granted.

Every day members of our nation’s military serve on the front lines, risking their lives to protect the freedoms and democracy we enjoy.

The South Carolina legal community is proud to serve and assist our veterans who willingly sacrifice so much for our country.

As a lawyer, it is my professional duty and the duty of my fellow lawyers to uphold the rule of law here at home.

Protecting the rule of law is also essential to our freedoms.

Every day, lawyers uphold and enforce the Constitution of the United States and play a crucial role in ensuring the rule of law prevails for citizens like you and me.

As part of that role, the legal profession provides essential services to service members and veterans who can find themselves in unique and difficult legal situations.

For instance, the South Carolina Bar operates a Legal Assistance for Military Personnel (LAMP) program that pairs qualified military personnel with volunteer lawyers.

Due to the transient nature of their service, military personnel often have difficulty obtaining legal counsel or direct representation. Through LAMP, lawyer volunteers handle many issues, including landlord tenant issues and custody disputes that commonly arise during deployment.

The program provides free or reduced fee legal services to active military personnel who are stationed in South Carolina or whose cases are related to South Carolina in some way.

The South Carolina Bar also has a Military and Veterans’ Law Section that, among other things, provides legal assistance through Stand Down programs.

These programs are an effort of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to offer medical and dental screenings and assistance, clothing, food, haircuts, and job and legal counseling for homeless veterans.

In addition, lawyers themselves provide military service, as service members or using their legal training as judge advocates to provide counsel to soldiers, retirees, and their families and representing the interests of the United States in civil litigation.

The Appleseed Legal Justice Center began a program earlier this year bringing local volunteer attorneys and law students together to provide one-on-one pro bono legal representation to veterans.

Through this program, free clinics are scheduled for qualified veterans to assist them with obtaining documentation such as Social Security cards, photo IDs or birth certificates; child support orders or modifications; expungement of criminal records; consumer protection issues, such as payday loans or auto title loans; and simple wills and health care powers of attorney.

Some counties have established diversionary court programs for veterans.

These courts are designed to address the unique needs of veterans whose criminal behavior is linked to mental illness or addictions resulting from combat and active duty. Through programs such as these, veterans are afforded the opportunity to be rehabilitated outside of the traditional criminal justice system.

These programs also keep non-violent offenders out of jail where they would not get treatment and offer assistance from fellow veterans and veteran service organizations, including substance abuse counseling, mental health treatment and assistance with other needs unique to veterans.

Our veterans have played a crucial role in protecting the freedoms we enjoy today.

This Veterans Day, please join me in thanking a veteran for his or her service and honoring our military’s commitment to protecting our liberties, rights and way of life as American citizens.

Liberty is a precious right for which soldiers throughout our nation’s history have lost their lives.

It must be preserved for all citizens on the front lines and at home.

Cal Watson is president of the South Carolina Bar Association.

**Published in The Post and Courier on November 10, 2014