In honor of National Celebrate Pro Bono Week, Pro Bono Net has lined up a variety of guest bloggers from law firms, legal aid organizations and elsewhere to share their pro bono ideas and experiences. Check back each day between Oct. 22-26 for new posts, and visit the Celebrate Pro Bono site to learn how you can get involved in events near you.
Below, we are pleased to present a guest post from John Robert Unruh, Staff Attorney at Swords to Plowshares.
Swords to Plowshares is a community-based, not-for-profit veteran service organization that provides wrap-around care to more than 2,000 veterans in the San Francisco Bay Area each year. We are committed to helping veterans break through the cultural, educational, psychological, and economic barriers they often face in their transition to the civilian world. With nearly 40 years of experience, Swords to Plowshares is a national model for veteran services and advocacy, having established one of the most respected and comprehensive models of care in the country.
Swords’ Legal Unit is unique in that it provides attorney representation and consultation to veterans of any era and discharge status. Swords is one of the few organizations in the country that provides free attorney representation in Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) benefits and military discharge upgrade cases. Our Legal Unit works closely with clients to access the benefits they have earned, which helps veterans avoid or escape homelessness, increase their financial stability, and focus on their long-term health and well-being. VA benefits are not automatic and many veterans are not aware of the benefits to which they are entitled. In addition, those veterans who did not receive fully honorable discharges may be ineligible for most VA benefits. By removing obstacles that prevent veterans from being eligible for or receiving the benefits they deserve, we play a key role in rebuilding the lives of veterans after their military service.
We launched our Pro Bono Project to help meet the needs of today’s veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan and veterans of generations past who have been denied access to benefits. In 2011, through a collaboration with the State Bar of California and the Practising Law Institute, we trained over 1,000 attorneys in this area of the law and placed nearly one hundred cases with pro bono attorneys. Our outstanding panel of pro bono attorneys has been instrumental in assisting Swords to Plowshares meet the overwhelming need for quality legal assistance in the Bay Area veterans community. Attorneys are needed in this area of the law because applying for VA benefits is a confusing process. Proper legal assistance can mean the difference between no benefits and a lifetime of disability compensation and access to health care and other benefits. Due to the success of our 2011 training, we will be holding another all day training event with the Practising Law Institute on November 1, 2013. Registration is free and the program can be attended in person in San Francisco or viewed via webcast. Please tune-in or come to the event! At the conclusion of the training you will have the necessary tools to assist a veteran in need.
If you are not already involved in a pro bono program I strongly encourage you to call your local bar association to learn about volunteer opportunities in your community. Helping an individual with their legal needs, who otherwise could not afford an attorney, is one of the most rewarding and meaningful experiences you will have in your professional life. The pro bono experiences I have had throughout my career, both through my work with Swords to Plowshares and my volunteer experiences with the Bar Association of San Francisco, have been incredibly gratifying.