Veterans Legal Fair conducted at VA Medical Center


 Legal Aid and Defender Association Inc. (LAD) conducted a Veterans Legal Fair on June 17 for veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces at John D. Dingell VA Medical Center, 4646 John R St.,  highlighted by a keynote address by Will A. Gunn, general counsel of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

Gunn is a retired U.S. Air Force colonel who served as a military lawyer in the Air Force’s Judge Advocate General Corps.  He is a graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy and Harvard Law School.  He spoke during the fair’s opening ceremony.
“It’s important for organizations like Legal Aid and Defender to provide services for veterans at risk,” Gunn told an audience of veterans, representatives of veterans organizations, and members of the staffs of the VA Medical Center and LAD.
Three of the top 10 issues facing the VA are legal issues, Gunn said:
1. Evictions and foreclosures.
2. Outstanding fines and warrants.
3. Child support.
The VA’s top priorities are eliminating the backlog of disability claims by veterans and homeless among veterans by 2015, Gunn said.
U.S. Rep. John Conyers Jr., D-Detroit, spoke at the fair’s luncheon.
Macomb County Circuit Court Judge Mark S. Switalski also spoke during the opening ceremony about the Macomb County Veterans’ Treatment Court (MCVTC). 
The first veterans’ treatment court in the United States was held in Buffalo, N.Y. in 2008, according to Gunn.
MCVTC held its first scheduled court session on April 12, 2012 in 41B District Court in Clinton Township.  Switalski held his first circuit court session on April 19, 2012 in Mount Clemens and currently holds sessions there every Thursday.
“Why veterans’ treatment courts?” Switalski asked rhetorically.  “Veterans have earned it, they’re assets,” he said.
MCTVC is also different from other dockets, Switalski said.  For example, MCVTC has had greater success with veterans who are heroin addicts than the regular circuit court docket has had with other addicts, he said.
“The target population should be high risk, with something to lose,” Switalski said.  “Veterans support each other if given the chance,” he said.
“This thing has given me a new perspective after 25 years on the bench,” Switalski said.  “The court is effective—it works.”
Following the opening ceremony, LAD attorneys conducted workshops on child support; driver’s responsibility, including traffic tickets; expungement of criminal records; and Social Security (SSI and SSDI) and VA benefits claims.
LAD will follow up the workshops with a case intake session on Wednesday, July 10, at the VA Medical Center from 9 a.m. to noon for veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces in Room B1314 of John D. Dingell VA Medical Center, 4646 John R St.  The session will be conducted by LAD staff attorneys and coordinators of the VA Medical Center’s Veterans Justice Outreach program.
“We see the provision of legal services to veterans as an opportunity to serve those who have given so much in the service of our country,” said Regina Daniels Thomas, deputy chief counsel-broad based advocacy of LAD’s Civil Law Group.