W.Va. Veterans Affairs educates attorneys on legal issues involving veterans

By Hanna Nakano | Nov 18, 2015

In observance of Veterans Day of Service this year, attorneys with West Virginia Veterans Affairs teamed up with the West Virginia State Bar to help attorneys prepare to better serve veterans in the mountain state.

The groups joined forces through a webinar that streamed live to Veterans Affairs offices across the state. The webinar, which was hosted live out of Beckly, was designed to help educate attorneys about the intricacies often involved in representing veterans.

Veterans Affairs attorneys Matt Kelly and Steve Butera presented on VA specific laws and regulations attorneys who represent veterans need to be privy to.

Butera, a veteran himself, knows first hand how important this attorney education can be when it comes to better serving the service men and women of West Virginia.

“Just this afternoon, I met a veteran who is 93-years-old, who participated in D-Day. Even though he’s 93 and I’m 52, we’re both veterans. We both went through basic training,” Butera told the West Virginia Record. “The fact is, we have that common bond, so if I’m in a position to help these people, I’m going to help them.”

Butera said by educating the local bar, attorneys will have a better understanding of the rules, so to speak, when interacting with the Veterans Association.

“Attorneys got educated in VA specific legal regulations and veterans got the opportunity to speak with real live attorneys and discuss their situations, and I think everyone at the end of the day was able to get some good out of this,” he told the Record.

VA attorneys are prohibited from providing legal advice to individual veterans, but during this webinar, veterans who attended were invited to ask legal questions of the attorneys.

Kelly said veterans who find out the VA has attorneys on staff often ask for legal assistance, and he was happy to have been able to help on this occasion.

“This was a way Steve and I to participate in something where veterans actually got to speak with attorneys about legal issues they might have, and receive that advice in a place where they’re comfortable, at the VA they’re used to going to,” Kelly said.

Year round, the Veterans Assistance Project at West Virginia University College of Law seeks to serve veterans throughout the mountain state. It’s the first project of it’s kind in the nation between a law school and the VA hospital.

Butera said he realized a legal assistance program like this for veterans was necessary when a veteran he met at the VA asked him for help drafting a will. As a VA attorney, Butera couldn’t help the man himself, but was able to find pro bono assistance for him. After that interaction, Butera said the VA led the charge of establishing the clinic at the state’s only law school.

“It helps not only to ease their minds, but it allows them to take care of other business and do other things like get their will done,” Butera said.

Also featured in the webinar were a National Guard presentation by Major Scott Applegate and a presentation about military family law issues by Lynn Branson.

Butera and Kelly said approximately 20 attorneys joined this year's event and the feedback they received was positive. They hope to continue to host these educational events in the future and encourage members of the W.Va. bar to attend.

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