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A community approach to addressing veterans’ legal needs


The question seems simple: How do we address veterans’ legal needs and other intersecting issues?  Attempting to answer that question would be like peeling an onion – one layer after another.

Veterans Administration National Coordinator Jessica Blue-Howells suggested reliance on service providers like the VA, specifically touting the benefits of the Veterans Re-Entry Search Services. Meanwhile her co-panelist, Nathan Graecer, promoted a more intimate approach, such as a simple lunch aimed at forming friendships. Attorney Renato Izquieta went the more strategic route, emphasizing the importance of having cultural competency, reasoning that without it, any attempt at serving our veterans will be inadequate, even with the best intentions.

Helping our veterans requires education, understanding of complex issues, and possessing the type of natural disposition that promotes efficiency within this context. Izquieta also promoted the idea that we have to have different models in place due to the complexity of the issues, even if that means each community uses a different model tailored towards their interest.

In contrast, Jon Sherin, Director of the Department of Mental Health in Los Angeles, had very simplistic proposals, one of which was the veteran’s court. The veteran’s court would consist of a massive campus that provides housing, mental healthcare services, education, employment, and recreational opportunities to veterans as well as a place where veterans can just hang out in a meaningful way. This would provide a preventative function in response to the veteran’s crisis.

Another interesting measure that Sherin advocated for was the idea that recruiters should consider how well an individual will reintegrate back into society before selecting them.

There were many approaches to securing better access to justice for veterans – some were novel and exciting, while others were more daunting. No matter the ideology, the panelists all seemed to agree on the same underlying two-point philosophy:

  1. Serving veterans requires collaboration between people of different fields, and
  2. Holistic solutions are the most effective.

Collaboration seems simple on its face, however, it often involves learning what other people do, disagreeing on methods, and building relationships with people outside of your profession. As Izquieta mentioned, “as attorneys, we really have an obligation to our veterans.” However, in acknowledging the true complexity of the issue it becomes apparent that lawyers can’t do it alone – they need help from professionals in the medical and psychological fields, non-profits, and any other industry that can have a positive input.

Holistic solutions come from those that are aware they are but one piece of a puzzle. This means communicating to veterans that they are important members of a community – a community that gives them things to do and things to hope for. It means integrating and building social places that are a natural and organic continuation of their transition. It means optimizing mental health, not treating mental illness. Instead of victimizing them or making them “other,” the holistic approach seems to be all about humanizing veterans.

My grandfather fought in Normandy, came back and struggled in America, and died in a veteran’s hospital. This is an abomination that millions of Americans know all too well. Pepperdine’s Access to Justice for Veterans Conference was an important step in securing justice for the brave men and women who risk their lives to protect our country. With the progress made at the conference, I’m sure that our future veterans will one day return to a country that protects them as well.

Aren Dumars Aren Dumars is in her first year at Pepperdine School of Law. After graduating from the University of Michigan, she decided to go to law school because of her unwavering commitment to ensuring that marginalized groups receive equal protection under the law.