Lawyers eager to help military personnel who have fought in the more than decade-long conflict in the Middle East were urged yesterday to show patience toward veterans as they try to transition back into civilian life.
A panel of experts on veterans and their legal needs told more than 200 people attending the Presidential Summit yesterday at the annual New York State Bar Association meeting at the Hilton New York in Manhattan that although former service personnel or members of the guard and reserve can use legal assistance, few will be inclined to ask for it because of the military's creed of self-sufficiency.
"When they are home, they'll try to handle their own problems," said Gary Yaple, CEO of the Veterans Outreach Center in Rochester. "They'll bury it. They'll self-medicate, as we've seen so many times, when they try to come up with their own solutions. But they're very compliant. When you need answers, be direct and ask for those answers and I think you'll find that you'll get them."
John Powers, a Hancock Estabrook partner in Syracuse who is director of the Onondaga County Bar Association's pro bono veterans' clinic, said it is no wonder that veterans attempting to reintegrate into civilian life experience personal issues that manifest in scrapes with the criminal justice system or in Family Court.
"If you look at the major stressors on anybody's life," such as changes in careers, locations and major relationships, coupled with trauma, "including trauma on the battlefield and intense physical fear for your safety," Powers said, that creates the "perfect storm of stress that these veterans are dealing with."
He said it is not easy for lawyers to get close enough to veterans to dissect how to best serve their legal needs.
"Sometimes these clients can be a little prickly to deal with," said Powers, a former Army Ranger. "You know, they may rub you the wrong way so you have to have that understanding of where they're coming from," he said, adding that lawyers had to have thick skin and remain non-judgmental.
"Above all else, you have to be patient," he said.
Attendees were urged to contact their counties' veterans' services coordinators as well as local Veterans Administration hospitals, Legal Aid Society offices and law schools to offer their assistance.
Buffalo City Court Judge Robert Russell, who developed the first veterans' treatment court in the nation in 2008, also stressed the need for patience.