“When we needed them to safeguard our rights, these men and women answered the call to service. Now, it is our responsibility to protect their rights,” said Matthew Wilcut, past president of the North Carolina Bar Association’s Military & Veterans Law Section (MVL), current president of the National Law School Veterans Clinic Consortium, and a partner at Sutton Snipes – a law firm exclusively for veteran disability claims.
North Carolina is home to eight military bases, about 113,000 active-duty and reserve servicemembers, and over 650,000 veterans. Veterans, servicemembers, and their families face unique legal issues across the entire spectrum of practice areas, including family law, elder law, and criminal law. “For example, being called to an active duty deployment may immediately raise employment (job protections), consumer (rental agreement), and family (custody) law issues.”
“As one of the newest sections of the NCBA, the MVL invites attorneys – especially active duty, reserve, and retired military practitioners – paralegals, law students, and other veteran advocates to band together to bolster legal advocacy of military-affiliated North Carolinians,” said Wilcut.
A Holistic Resource for Attorneys
The MVL was not created to cater solely to attorneys who practice before military tribunals or the Department of Veterans Affairs; rather, the goal is to act as a resource for all legal professionals in North Carolina with a veteran or military client or question of law. “The only expectation of an MVL member is that each must desire to advocate for the military-affiliated population of our state,” said Wilcut.
The MVL likes to see law students exposed as early as possible to the military and veteran issues that may arise throughout their career. Three law schools in North Carolina offer clinical programs that focus on veteran or military clients. Legal Aid of North Carolina and law schools often partner to hold criminal record expungement clinics at “Stand Down” events across the state, which focus on serving the homeless veteran population.
“This is a place where mentorship is the norm. Any MVL member is welcome to say, ‘I’ve got a case involving a veteran or servicemember,’ or ‘I want to see what this particular practice area is like. Is anyone willing to get together over lunch so I can pick their brain?’ MVL members will jump at that kind of opportunity to collaborate and share best practices. We are not yet in any competition with each other to serve these client populations with their outstanding unmet needs.”
Another major accomplishment of the section is an annual CLE focusing on veteran and military issues – a joint venture over the years with the North Carolina State Bar Legal Assistance for Military Personnel (LAMP) Committee. Trainings have covered representation before the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, custody settlements related to deployments, military discipline, divorce settlements and military benefits, and federal agency actions against “bad actors” targeting veterans and servicemembers. MVL makes available a limited number of scholarships for state and federal military personnel stationed or practicing in North Carolina.
Recently, the MVL established a relationship with the new NC Veterans Life Center in Butner, which aids veterans in reintegrating into society after military service. “We want to do everything we can to ensure North Carolina remains the most military-friendly state in the country,” said Wilcut.