When a veteran is discharged from the armed forces, they begin the transition to civilian life. However, the type of discharge received can have far-reaching consequences for veterans as the stigma of an “Other Than Honorable” discharge follows veterans throughout their lives and limits the federal benefits they can receive. Proskauer is actively involved in helping veterans upgrade their discharge status, when they have been unfairly denied benefits due to an improper classification.
The families and children migrating from Central America have suffered terrible traumatic experiences, and a recent report by Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), a non-profit advocacy group, addresses the serious, long-term medical consequences of this trauma. These important findings provide compelling support for more humane immigration policies, and inform best practices for lawyers working with immigration clients.
Trauma Suffered by Young Migrants
Multiple studies link trauma to long-term negative health outcomes, including chronic disease, impaired cognitive development, and mental health conditions. With analysis by medical school faculty and students from Weill Cornell Center for Human Rights, the report is significant for its sole focus on child asylum seekers. Out of the 183 children in the study, nearly 80% experienced direct physical violence, 71% experienced threats of violence or death, 59% witnessed acts of violence, and almost 20% experienced repeated sexual violence or exploitation. Sixty percent of the children experienced some form of gang violence, and 47% experienced violence perpetrated by family members. A constant theme among the children was the lack of protection from law enforcement in their home countries. (Eighty-nine percent were from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.) Many also reported traumatic experiences during transit to the U.S. through dangerous terrain, with inadequate food or water, where they remained vulnerable to continued acts of violence.
Pro bono projects can provide some of the most meaningful and interesting moments in a lawyer’s career. It’s usually an easy decision to say “yes” when presented with a pro bono opportunity, because this type of work gives young lawyers invaluable experience and offers all lawyers a purposeful way to give back to their communities. Unfortunately, at the same time this work can be incredibly stressful, challenging, and emotionally taxing, and may lead to secondary trauma.
Secondary trauma is when the stress of working with a trauma-exposed client begins to interfere with a pro bono lawyer’s professional or personal life. Secondary traumatic stress, also known as vicarious trauma, burnout, or compassion fatigue, shares some symptoms with post-traumatic stress disorder, but it is the product of being indirectly exposed to another’s trauma. Examples of secondary trauma have been found in social workers who work with abused children; and therapists who support sexual assault survivors. Secondary traumatic stress also affects public interest lawyers, and has been documented among public defenders and judges.