NYSBA Expands Pro Bono Network to Assist Veterans Discharged Because of Sexual Orientation, Gender Identification, PTSD, Sexual Trauma, Brain Injury

By Susan DeSantis

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The New York State Bar Association is expanding its pro bono network of volunteer attorneys to help veterans gain access to more than 50 state benefits through a new law that becomes effective this week for Veterans Day.

The Restoration of Honor Act allows for the potential restoration of state veterans benefits for veterans with General or Other-than-Honorable discharges due to post-traumatic stress disorder, military sexual trauma, traumatic brain injury, sexual orientation or gender identification.

The law entitles these veterans to benefits provided by the state of New York, such as real property tax exemptions, extra credits on Civil Service examinations, and admission to State Veterans Homes. It does not change their discharge status on the federal level, as the state does not have the power to do so.

“More than 100,000 veterans who served in World War II or thereafter received less than honorable discharges due to their sexual orientation alone,” said Scott M. Karson, president of the New York State Bar Association. “The United States Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that nearly one in three Vietnam veterans struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder. With nearly 260,000 less than honorable discharges received by Vietnam veterans, clearly many people need our help. Our volunteer attorneys, who exemplify the highest ideals of our profession, will step up to meet that need.”

The bar association is helping veterans change their discharge status under state law in partnership with the state Division of Veterans’ Services. Executive Deputy Director Joel Evans, a 23-year U.S. Navy veteran, praised both the new law and NYSBA’s pro bono efforts.

“The Restoration of Honor Act signed into law by Governor Andrew Cuomo addresses the many injustices my fellow veterans experienced because of undiagnosed mental health conditions, their gender or sexual identities, or surviving military sexual trauma,” Evans said.

“As we continue to advocate for them on a federal level, we are dedicated to ensuring that the benefits they earned in service to our state and nation are available to them in New York State,” he continued. “I applaud the New York State Bar Association’s initiative to provide continuing legal education credits while expanding on the immense work they have done regarding military cultural competency and ensuring all veterans may access their benefits.”

On Friday, NYSBA’s executive committee approved a collaboration with PsychArmor, a not-for-profit that will allow the association to expand its military cultural competency offerings by enabling members to take courses free of charge.

NYSBA’s Committee on Veterans is providing a training program for attorneys who want to help former service members. They may sign up at https://nysba.org/attorney-training-restoration-of-honor-act/.

NYSBA has a separate pro bono network that is providing volunteer attorneys to help New York residents who lost their jobs as a result of the coronavirus pandemic access unemployment benefits. The association is also helping the families of COVID-19 victims with small estates handle these matters in Surrogate’s Court. Thus far, nearly 500 attorneys have helped almost 2,000 clients – free of charge.

Attorneys who would like to assist clients with unemployment benefits and in Surrogate’s Court should go to: https://nysba.org/covidvolunteer/.

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Contact: Susan DeSantis
[email protected]
201-575-5756

 

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