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New veterans legal-aid program launched

Center for Veterans Advancement to provide free legal assistance

Posted: November 11, 2009 12:17 p.m.
Updated: November 11, 2009 4:00 p.m.
LOS ANGELES -- Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Public Counsel, the nation's largest pro bono law firm, today announced the formal launch of the Center for Veterans Advancement - a new legal project at Public Counsel aimed at providing free legal representation to veterans pursuing benefits claims.

Since Oct. 2001, approximately 1.7 million troops have been deployed in support of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. As has been widely reported, this new generation of returning veterans faces significant hurdles. The Rand Corporation estimates that one-third of returning veterans have suffered either Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, major depression, or Traumatic Brain Injury.

However, only about one half of these veterans even receive "minimally adequate" care for these conditions and significant numbers are denied the disability benefits to which they are entitled under the law.

In response to this pending epidemic, Public Counsel has created a new legal project - the Center for Veterans Advancement ("CVA") - to provide free legal representation to veterans at both the VA-agency level and at the United States Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims.

Volunteer attorneys from over 25 states have already signed up to take cases in a nationwide pro bono effort co-sponsored by the National Organization of Veterans' Advocates, Inc. and the CVA. Mayor Villaraigosa is an Honorary Advisor to the CVA.

"On the day we remember and honor those who gave the ultimate sacrifice so we might call ourselves free, there is no better way to honor our veterans and reiterate our respect and gratitude for their service, than to ensure they receive the benefits they deserve," Mayor Villaraigosa said.

The CVA is funded in part by generous grants from The Safeway and Vons Foundations, Northrop Grumman, the Oder Family Foundation, the Bettingen Foundation, and other private donors.

"The Vons and Safeway Foundations are honored to join with Public Counsel and members of our elected community to support a cause as important as this one today," stated Daymond Rice, chair of The Vons Foundation. "On Veterans Day, we in the private sector can help our returning veterans by offering the opportunity for employment."

"These veterans are heroes," said Rick Little, Director of Public Counsel's Center for Veterans Advancement, "We are proud to honor the service of our returning men and women in uniform by working to secure the resources that are available to them."

The CVA is now providing free legal services to qualifying veterans.

In addition to Mayor Villaraigosa, other Honorary Advisors to Public Counsel's CVA include California Treasurer Bill Lockyer, California Senators Gil Cedillo, Jeff Dunham and Abel Maldonado, California Assemblymembers Mike Eng, Ted Lieu, Mary Salas, and Lori Saldana, Ninth Circuit Judge Harry Pregerson, and Santa Monica Councilmember Bobby Shriver.

About Public Counsel
Public Counsel is the country's largest pro bono, public interest law firm. It is the public interest law office of the Los Angeles County and Beverly Hills Bar Associations, and is the Southern California affiliate of the Lawyer's Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

Public Counsel's 41 in-house attorneys provide free legal and social services to the most vulnerable, including abused and abandoned children, homeless families and veterans, senior citizens, immigrants fleeing persecution, victims of consumer fraud and nonprofit organizations serving low-income communities. In 2008, with the assistance of over 2,000 attorney volunteers from hundreds of different law firms, Public Counsel served over 27,000 individuals and entities, providing over $83 million in free services.

Nationally, Public Counsel has been a leader in developing model programs and assisting other pro bono public interest law firms to bring these programs to their communities. In addition to serving the vast Los Angeles metropolitan region, Public Counsel is actively helping to strengthen pro bono public interest law internationally.

In 2000, Public Counsel was instrumental in creating the Instituto Pro Bono in Brazil, that country's first public interest pro bono law firm. Since that time Public Counsel has played a central role in nurturing other pro bono programs in Brazil, Argentina, Europe, Africa and Australia.


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