Oklahoma Bar Journal

Oklahoma Lawyers for America’s Heroes Program Celebrates Ninth Anniversary

By Edward Maguire

The Oklahoma Lawyers for America’s Heroes program is a free legal assistance program for all veterans and active duty personnel who meet certain criteria. They must be an E-6 or lower if on active duty, and they must make no more than the 100% compensable rate for disabled veterans. This equates to approximately $42,000 a year in household income. The program offers reimbursement of funds to volunteers on a limited- and prior-approved basis.

The Heroes Program has maintained a significant presence over 2020. As we approach year end, we still maintain a large volunteer base; however, attrition has hurt our numbers significantly.

We have lost many volunteers due to retirement.

A concerted effort and support from all lawyers are needed to help bring in additional volunteers.

Currently, we have 350+ Honorary Volunteers. They are individuals who have left the practice of law. To them we say, “Thank you.” This program was built by members like you. We should continue to maintain a relationship with these individuals. Many can continue to mentor and lead others. In addition, many have offered to recruit for the program. Let us keep all in our loop.

Overall, volunteers continued to step up to help veterans throughout. Many individuals worked tirelessly within their own areas. As a result, the hours of service have gone up, while the number of those available to serve those hours has decreased. This is a trend that we can reverse. Remediation efforts were thwarted by the lack of public gatherings. This has been our main recruitment source in the past, and that avenue is no longer available for the immediate future.

This means we should find other avenues for the program to conduct recruitment. We call out to all concerned and ask them to place someone in your firm as a designate for our state’s heroes. In addition, we will hopefully have pages established on approved social outlets. This will be done within established parameters. But, with approval and your continued support, this will bring in the necessary talent to keep our program going.

Another trend that should stand apparent is we have seen a surge in the number of nonqualified veterans seeking our service. These are usually 100% disabled veterans whose income is too high for consideration.

The Military and Veterans Law Section and the Military Access Committee met in the early part of the COVID-19 crisis to adjust this parameter. At that time, the household income eligibility threshold was increased to meet the current 100% disability rating with one dependent as defined by the Veterans Administration. That recommendation was approved unanimously and equates to an increase from the previous income threshold of $40,000 a year.  The new threshold level is listed around $42,000 dollars a year per household.

Additional work needs to be done to address those who are still in need and seeking our services. These are individuals in crisis who can’t qualify for other services and don’t have enough disposable resources to hire an advocate.  Please go to www.okbarheroes.org and sign up to volunteer today!

The billable hours members volunteered this year exceeded expectations due to COVID. Many volunteered for veterans and other services. The hours have been based on the call volume and case load, but it still well exceeds $1 million in free legal services! Equally impressive is the total of $7,371,000 in free legal services donated by bar members since the program was created in September 2010.

Hopefully, in 2021 we can add an additional category for Mentored Volunteers. Many new attorneys want to help but don’t know where to start. The necessity of 2020 has created new avenues for the program. We must further explore these avenues.

In summation, there have been numerous challenges this year. Most have been overcome. We have made changes to the assignment of cases. We have made threshold adjustments, and we continue to serve veterans. In 2021 we must seek out new volunteers. We must be social in our approach.

Mr. Maguire is the OBA Heroes Program coordinator. You can reach him at 405-416-7086 or email him at heroes@okbar.org.

Originally published in the Oklahoma Bar Journal -- OBJ 91 No. 10 (December 2020)