Spotlight on Student Public Service & Pro Bono: On the Need for Holistic Representation in Veterans’ Rights Services, by Pro Bono Publico Award Winner Martin Bunt

Every year, we honor law student pro bono with the PSJD Pro Bono Publico Award. Any 2L or 3L who attends a PSJD subscriber school and has significant pro bono contributions to underserved populations, the public interest community and legal education is eligible for nomination.

This week, the 2013-14 PSJD Pro Bono Publico Award winners have been guest blogging about law student pro bono and their public interest commitments. Today, we’re featuring the grand prize winner and Emory University School of Law student Martin Bunt, a veterans’ rights advocate who co-founded the student-run Volunteer Clinic for Veterans.

Atlanta Photographer | LeahAndMark & Co. | Emory Law

Read Martin’s take on why veterans’ service organizations need to unite and work together below!

I recently went to a briefing in Atlanta on state and federal funding available for veterans and the organizations that benefit them with Sion New, the next student director of the Emory Law Volunteer Clinic for Veterans. Also present at the briefing were churches, summer camps, medical organizations, mental health organizations, veteran job training organization, veteran general support organizations, the American Red Cross.

This was not the first time I had attended a get-together of this type. To see the amount of organizations serving veterans is truly heartening. There are so many people who wish to serve veterans. However, what others and I realized at the meeting is that the amount of organizations serving veterans creates both an opportunity and a problem. The opportunity is the ability of organizations serving veterans to partner with each other to provide “whole package” services to veterans in need. The problem is how do organizations become aware of all the other organizations in their area that they should partner with to serve veterans?

Organizations that serve veterans and other organizations need to solve this problem. We cannot fully accomplish our goal of helping those we serve without working together.

Each service an organization provides is a piece of a puzzle. For example, the VCV provides legal services in the areas of discharge upgrades and VA benefits. But we only provide legal services.

The following hypothetical explains how this could fail to fully help a veteran who comes to us:

A veteran named Brad, for example purposes only, comes to our Clinic for help appealing a denied VA rating for PTSD. Brad believes that his PTSD is connected to his two tours in Iraq between 2003 and 2006. Since Brad was discharged he got married and has two kids. After service Brad realized that his temper flared easily and he often woke with nightmares of a battle where he lost three of his friends to mortar and RPG fire. Brad works at a job that underutilizes the skills he learned as a soldier and therefore he does not enjoy going to work. His temper and lack of sleep recently caused him to lose his job and has severely strained his marriage. From interviews with Brad, it is clear that he has struggled as a veteran to find a purpose and the structured lifestyle that the military gave him.

The VCV can advocate on Brad’s behalf and win a PTSD rating for him from the VA. But monthly disability checks will not help Brad get his life where he truly wants it. He needs a purpose, he needs counseling, and he needs help with his family. Just from the community of organizations I met this past week in Atlanta, Brad can get all the help he needs.

Purpose

A new organization in Atlanta, the Phoenix Patriot Foundation, individually tailors programs that get veterans involved in serving their community and learning new skills to provide these services. Brad will discover a niche in helping his community with a skill he already possesses or will learn. This service will in turn lead him down a path to a job that he truly enjoys.

Counseling

Multiple organizations present at the briefing provided individual PTSD counseling. These private organizations are effective and needed supplements to the VA’s efforts to provide PTSD counseling to veterans. Brad would receive individual counseling and mentoring on different methods to manage his tempers and sleep better at night.

Family

Camp Twin Lakes is a Georgia based organization that has a Wounded Warrior program that offers weekend getaways for veterans and their families at Camp Twin Lakes different camps around Georgia. During these getaways veterans and their families not only get a wonderful vacation but attend marriage and family counseling.

After Brad receives all of the services offered by these organizations he would truly be a different man: He would be receiving the VA benefits he has earned; he would have a new purpose by utilizing his skill sets to serve his local community and in turn discovering a new, more suitable career; He would learn to control his temper and sleep better at night; His marriage would be on a much better footing. Brad would find all the pieces to the puzzle of life falling into place.

This example demonstrates why service organizations must work together in a community to aid those they serve. I believe a great solution to service organizations discovering each other is to create a central website that lists all service organizations by targeted population and services offered. This does not yet exist in Atlanta, but I believe it will happen soon. Leaders of all service organizations have a duty to work together to help those that we serve receive the “whole package,” we are failing them if we do not.

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