I recently sat down with Chris Attig of Attig Law Firm, an accredited VA Attorney, to discuss his dedication to helping military veterans to process their veteran benefit claims with the veterans administration. I also learned more about what else Chris is out to do to help others.
Following is Part One of a Two Part interview!
In The Beginning
Duke: Tells us..Who is Chris Attig? Can you give me some of your background?
Attig: I started college at the university of Scranton in Pennsylvania in 1989..and at that time money for college was not available. It was coming down to I was going to have to leave college and find something else to do plus I was also heading down a path of life that was not the healthiest.
A friend of mine introduced me to ROTC and I got an opportunity to do some rappelling and I was hooked immediately. So, I signed up in ROTC thru the University of Scranton and was processed through a very scaled down version of basic training one summer at Ft Knox in Kentucky. I was awarded a scholarship in ROTC for the rest of college.
I left college and my first duty station as an artillery officer was out in the Republic of Korea at Camp Casey in Tongduchon, Korea. I was a fire support officer leading a team of five folks. We basically went up in the mountains with some real high tech stuff and watched the lanes of tanks and infantry come down the road. We helped them when they called for support for fire, rockets, air force, or what ever fire support they needed.
I came back to stateside and had an opportunity to go to Airborne School for which I graduated. I did get a few extra jumps because on my first jump I tore my face to ribbons coming out of the plane..which is fun. Jumping out of airplanes is fun. And now folks ask me if I am afraid to fly and I reply that I am not afraid to fly, I just don’t like landing using a parachute.
In any event, from there I went from Airborne to Ranger School but never graduated from Ranger School. I spent an awful lot of time there, but it taught me a couple of things. I was in the best physical shape of my life. I spent months preparing for Ranger School. But what it taught me was the mental toughness a person needed was what it was all about and I was not able to overcome that while I was at Ranger School. And I learned a lesson from that.
I then went down to Ft Hood. I spent a couple of years at Ft Hood working on a whole variety of things. Mostly working on multiple launch rocket systems. I ran a platoon of those. I was a motor officer for a battery of rocket systems and then moved up to Assistant S-3 in that unit.
At that point I received an invitation to attend special forces assessment and selection out in Ft Bragg North Carolina. I ultimately decided not to go that direction in my career and decided I wanted to do something outside of the military.
I left active duty and spent the next seven years in the reserves. Until 2004 when I got my honorable discharge.
After I got out of the military, I bounced around with a few jobs. I did some financial planning, and some stockbroking. I started my own financial planning business and eventually found myself without any money and couldn’t make it work.
In order to make ends meets I took on a couple of extra jobs. I drove a cab at night..I would deliver newspapers from the cab in the morning and then do door to door insurance sales..all just to pay the bills.
Anyway, I got some job offers, worked for some great companies on their executive teams..namely Frito Lay, Target. I then ultimately decided it was time to do something greater in my life.
I went to law school in south Texas at the South Texas College of Law outside of Houston. I graduated and started working for the IRS and that lead me to where I am today.
There is a whole lot more to that story, but that is what got me to doing what I do today.
There was a time I was in the woods that most military vets go through and ask themselves..what am I going to do. And I have been there.
It was a huge adjustment coming out of the military. I was in the military during peacetime and got out before Desert Fox..so I now am seeing these kids coming out of activity duty post war campaigns and it is hard for them to adjust.
Part of what I do now is help Vets find the resources they need to make these adjustments to civilian life.
Helping Plays A Huge Part
Duke: So helping Veterans find assistance is a big part of what you are doing now.
Attig: That is a big part of it. The piece we focus on is helping Vets get access to the tools they need. We can bash the VA and the bureaucracy..and I will make no bones about bashing them from time to time over the bureaucracy. There are good people inside the VA and there are some good programs the VA offers.
There are some vocational rehab programs that are phenomenal…the job training programs are phenomenal… the medical resources by in large..especially here in Dallas..are phenomenal.
And it is getting Vets in touch with all of these benefits..getting their benefits claims processed so they can obtain these tools is what we offer. These are life changing events.
I look at the Veterans we won claims for..their survivors we won claims for… and I look at how their lives have changed once they get their benefits.
The first case I ever won was for a guy out in Arkansas who lived in a trailer park. He had just taken custody of his grandkids..his daughter had passed away and left kids behind.. He had no way to support these kids. We won over $200,000 of funds he had been battling with the VA over for two years. Getting access to those benefits changed his life.
This is a big part of why I do this is to see the results I can make in these Vet’s lives.
Duke: Is there more to the answer to the question “Why do you do this?”
Attig: There is. There is a whole bunch of moving pieces here. If you look at the legal profession for example. Folks who know me know I hate lawyer jokes. Over 99% of the jokes are not true. They perpetuate that all lawyers are bad people and over 99% of them are not.
When you look at the profession it is a very, very conservative profession. Very slow to move.
On the other hand you have a new economy developing around information and information technology. If attorneys can adapt this technology in their practice we can reach so many more communities that we serve, or want to serve, in so many ways that have never been done before.
So, that is part of what we are doing here. We are using some of the tools that new economy businesses..the folks who use content, education and information to drive a business plan. We are using this to change the way a law firm operates.
Our number one goal is to go beyond representation and get information, get education and get power to people who need information, education and power.
And if we can persuade more attorneys to do this we can start seeing some massive shifts in the legal profession and change the way lawyers thinks will change more people’s lives.
The Change in Law Practices
Duke: Do lawyers fear changing to a newer way of practicing law?
Attig: Yes, there is a fear factor involved.
There is an attorney in Indiana who has some concerns of some stuff he has put on his blogs and whether attorneys have first amendment protection for what they say on their blog.
There was recent report of a Texas Judge who was texting questioning ideas to a prosecuting attorney in a criminal trial to undercut a witness. So there are abuses and I am not saying the first example is an abuse..my jury is still out on that one..but there is a huge fear factor. Attorneys have been reluctant to accept new ideas because of the profession is so conservative. And there are some issues..like what happens if you have digital records of medical records. What happens when they “Get Out There”… How do you manage that?
The NSA has helped us all out a lot because they know they are spying on everything we do so there really is no attorney/client privilege. But with all joking aside.. the profession can adopt some real easy methods..and I talk about this on the attorney forum on the Veterans Law Blog ..is number one, adopt a blog on your attorney firm’s web-site.
Use it as a repository and archive for your education, your knowledge, you background. An attorney will then spend less time on the phone answering the same questions over and over. People will start seeing the lawyer as a human being and not a used car salesman, or someone attempting to get their hands in their wallet…the typical stereotypes people have which are flat out wrong.
Stay tuned for Part Two of my interview with Chris Attig.