Several hundred veterans of the U.S. armed forces, many of them homeless, poured into Seattle Central Community College on Sept. 12 to receive access to a wide variety of services at the second annual Seattle Stand Down event. And for the second year, representatives from DWT were there to lend a hand, and an ear.
Pro bono coordinator Julie Orr once again spearheaded DWT’s involvement, which grew significantly this year as five DWT attorneys took a shift. Ken Payson, a partner in the litigation group, volunteered at the event and helped to recruit other DWT attorney veterans as participants. Payson is a former Marine who served as a machine gunner during Operation Desert Storm. Also providing dedicated service were paralegal Patrick Watts (a veteran as well) and assistant Peg Benson.
Many vets who made their way to DWT’s table were looking for help expunging criminal records or repairing a drivers’ license suspension. “They were all trying to get on the right track,” says Ryan York, a partner in the corporate finance group who is currently in the U.S. Naval Reserve. “That was very encouraging. One vet I spoke to was starting to study for a diesel mechanic’s license and needed to be able to drive. That was a pervasive message: ‘I’m ready to get my life on track.’”
This year’s event put a special emphasis on attracting female vets. Several dozen came to a separate building catering to them, with free manicures offered. On the male side, most of the attendees were Vietnam-era vets, observes York, who recently spent a year deployed in Afghanistan. “I didn’t see any from the last decade or so.”
Ryan Gist, an associate on the litigation team, says some vets he spoke to were looking for a way to rectify a less-than-honorable discharge. “It was still following them ten years after leaving the service,” he says. “And in some cases, the offense was something that in today’s army might have resulted in a general, or even honorable, discharge.” Lifting the dishonorable discharge, he says, “can significantly improve a vet’s employment prospects.” Gist himself spent nine years in the Army, including time as a Ranger Forward Observer in Afghanistan and as a Company Commander in Iraq.
As at other legal clinics, DWT attorneys generally weren’t offering direct legal advice, but providing a screening service. “Often there are legal issues, and then there are other issues that are intertwined,” notes partner Monty Gray, who put in an early shift at the Stand Down event. Gray was on active duty with the U.S. Air Force Reserve back in the early ‘70s.
The advantage of Stand Down is that with so many service providers available, our team was able to send vets directly to the Veterans Administration, Northwest Justice Project, and other non-profit organizations to get long-term help. “It was great to have the services all in one place,” says Gist.
“For the folks at the Justice Project, it was helpful to have us get at the issues and be able to send a summary,” notes York. “That way they didn’t need to go through the entire process again.”
The Northwest Justice Project staff are “extremely knowledgeable,” says associate Joanne Montague, who came to Stand Down with experience volunteering several times a year at Seattle’s Downtown Emergency Services Center. One of the outcomes of the Stand Down event, she says, is that someone from the Project will call many of the inquiring vets within two weeks. “It was gratifying to know that some sort of follow-up was going to occur,” she says.
Full Fall 2012 Pro Bono Report