In honor of the upcoming Veteran’s Day Holiday, we are pleased to share with you this post by Associate Justice Eileen C. Moore. Many of our returning vets have legal issues, such as un-responded to VA claims, denied medical care coverage, employment discrimination and more. Our vets and military families are in great need of pro bono legal assistance and this will likely be a growing problem. We thank Justice Moore for helping us highlight the issue this Veteran’s Day, we thank our vets, and we encourage you to look to the ABA Military Pro Bono Project for ways to help our returning vets.
Every so often in life, something quite memorable happens. I experienced one of those moments while acting as a mentor in Orange County, California’s Combat Veterans Court. I was there mentoring a few young women when the judge called a case involving a Vietnam Veteran. This was sort of unusual as most of the vets in Veterans Court served in Iraq or Afghanistan. I was interested, since I served as an Army combat nurse in Vietnam.
The Vietnam vet, who had been under the influence of who-knows-what for most of his adult life, was not only sober, but sublimely happy, as he showed the judge an A-plus written across his college paper. He was ecstatic at his success and thanked the judge from the bottom of his heart.
Just then, some rattling could be heard from the side of the courtroom, where in-custody defendants on other matters are held awaiting their cases to be called. The caged man called out to the judge, and she told him she would call his matter later. The man looked as if he lived in a gutter for the previous 40 years. What skin was visible was like broken concrete, and he was absolutely filthy. The anticipation on his face was right out of that scene from “When Harry Met Sally,” when the woman says to the waitress, “I’ll have what she’s having.”
Having seen another Vietnam vet succeed, he wanted to do the same. He begged the judge to let him into Veterans Court. She explained he had been rejected because there are only so many open spots, due to economical concerns, and his years of being in and out of jail did not bode well for his chances of success. But he kept begging.
The judge, the Honorable Wendy Lindley, whose heart is quite large, finally relented, to the obvious consternation of members of the collaborative team, made up of lawyers, probation officers, V.A. personnel and mental health professionals. The team apparently wanted someone with more promise to fill the spot.
When there was a recess, I went up to the holding cell and introduced myself. I told him that, while I am now a judge, I was a nurse in Vietnam. He could not have cared less that I am a judge. He grabbed my hand and clutched it. He looked straight into my eyes and said, “I would never let a nurse down. You were angels to us over there.”
The next time I saw him, he looked like a college professor. About 18 months later, clean and sober and scrubbed, he graduated from Veterans Court. He was asked to say a few words, and he said, “See, I told you I would never let a nurse down.”
Eileen C. Moore
California Court of Appeal
Our thanks to our partners at the Practising Law Institute for connecting CJC (Connecting Justice Communities) with Justice Moore for this interview. Justice Moore chaired a program for Practising Law Institute this past June on “Approaching Veterans Issues.” If you’d like to learn more, “Approaching Veterans Issues” is available (at no charge) at: www.pli.edu