It’s Saturday morning in the Garden Oaks area of the city, just north of 610. In a canteen-like room there are tables and chairs spread out. On one side of each table is a volunteer lawyer, on the other, a veteran. And every veteran has something different that they need legal advice on, like volunteer lawyer Alistair Dawson’s first client.
“A couple came in today. They wanted to a have will, both the husband and wife. We were able to get them hooked up with an attorney who will get their legal needs taken care of.”
These Saturday clinics happen once a month in a different part of Texas. Some veteran’s like Ronnie Odum are willing to travel the distance to get legal help.
“Carthage Texas, that’s East Texas, close to the border of Louisiana.”
Yep you heard it right, Carthage, Texas, meaning Odum travelled nearly four hours for legal advice. But he’d do it again and would even recommend the clinic to his fellow veterans.
“Hey man, it’s great. Put you some gas in your car and travel down here or find the closest (clinic) which they be havin'.”
“It was started by one of our former presidents.”
That’s Brent Benoit, the current president of the Houston Bar Association. One of his predecessors felt the association needed to help those who’d served.
“Veterans that have dedicated so much of their lives and engaged in so many sacrifices for our country that as lawyers we ought to give back to them and help them whenever they have legal problems.”
And Benoit says it really does work.
“In the veteran’s program, we have helped people obtain benefits, where they otherwise were not going to receive them. We have helped veterans, who were going to be evicted from their apartments.”
But he also feels he gets something too.
“Well it’s important to me as a citizen because I benefit greatly from the sacrifice that each one of these individuals has made for our country.”
This legal initiative for veterans originally began in Houston in 2008 and has since been rolled out statewide. So far they’ve helped nearly 3,000 veterans at their monthly Saturday clinics and at the U.S. Vets Initiative office where they also meet once a month.
At the Michael E. Debakey VA hospital they provide weekly clinics where they help 20-25 vets each week.
Volunteer Lawyer Alistair Dawson is proud of the Houston Bar Association’s work with veterans and just hopes that anyone who needs it, asks for help.
“If you have a legal issue, if you have a legal problem anything that involves courts — whether it’s criminal courts, civil courts, family courts — then you should contact the Houston volunteer lawyers.”