Christopher J. Clay, General Counsel of Disabled American Veterans (DAV), shared his perspectives on current challenges facing disabled veterans and his experiences as general counsel of national non-profit organization during a talk at Harvard Law School on October 2. The event was hosted by the Veterans Legal Clinic of the Legal Services Center of Harvard Law School, and was cosponsored by the Harvard Law School Project on Disability, Armed Forces Association, National Security and Law Association, and The Transactional Law Clinics.
Clinical Professor Daniel Nagin—director of the Veterans Legal Clinic—gave opening remarks, introducing both Mr. Clay and Richard E. Marbes, Chair of the Board of Directors of the DAV Charitable Service Trust, who was in attendance at the event. Nagin described DAV’s role as an important resource for veterans seeking access to benefits and supportive services. This year marks the sixth year that the DAV Charitable Service Trust has provided funding to support the work of the Veterans Legal Clinic.
Mr. Clay—a Ph.D-trained philosopher turned lawyer—spoke about his background, his unique career path, and his duties as the general counsel of a large nonprofit. He answered questions from the audience on a wide range of topics, including how DAV collaborates with other veterans organizations, DAV’s relationship with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), and whether the role of general counsel differs between non-profit and for-profit organizations.
Mr. Clay also discussed DAV’s origins, structure, and accomplishments. DAV is a congressionally-chartered organization that was founded in Cincinnati with about 20 members and has now grown to over 1 million members. DAV offers a range of services to veterans, from no-cost advocacy before the VA to free rides to medical appointments. According to Mr. Clay, DAV handled over 250,000 VA disability claims last year and has donated over 4,000 vans and countless volunteer hours over the past few years to transport veterans to medical appointments at VA medical centers nationwide.
In addition to helping veterans access benefits and services, Mr. Clay discussed how DAV has sought to encourage veterans to live fuller lives. One program brings together severely disabled veterans to participate in winter sports and other activities that, Mr. Clay said, help veterans feel that “if I can do this, I can do anything.” Finally, he emphasized that the DAV’s veteran members are the ones that ultimately run DAV, which “ensures that the passion that began DAV remains with DAV.”