The William and Mary Law School honored one of its own on Veterans Day with the naming of the Lewis B. Puller, Jr. Veterans Benefit Clinic. Puller ’67 J.D. ’74, a U.S. Marine, was severely wounded by a booby-trapped Howitzer round during the Vietnam War.
Puller survived the trauma to return to Williamsburg and receive his law degree. He went on to write the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel “Fortunate Son” before passing away in 1994.
The Veterans Benefit Clinic was established in 2009 to offer legal advice to veterans hoping to obtain benefits from the Department of Veterans’ Affairs and Department of Defense.
The ceremony included remarks from U.S. Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), Va. State Sen. Toddy Puller and Law School Dean Davison Douglas.
Warner, a close friend of the Puller family, expressed admiration for Puller and his gratitude toward all veterans.
“[He] had a unique character, wit, energy and a willingness to face enormous challenges created by his wounds head on,” Warner said. “The notion [that] a veteran on his or her own can navigate through this unduly process just isn’t always the case, so I would like to commend the law school for taking on this process.”
Warner mentioned the nearly two million veterans that have returned from both Iraq and Afghanistan — many with untold stresses — as possible future beneficiaries of the clinic.
“As a senator, you get [invitations to] a lot of places to go on Veterans Day,” he said. “I could not imagine a place I would rather be … You are naming a clinic after a real American hero.”
The clinic is the first in the United States to address both the psychological and legal difficulties faced by wounded veterans. The law school has partnered with Virginia Commonwealth University’s Center for Psychological Services and Development to conduct research. Attorneys Stacey-Rae Simcox and Mark Matthews manage the project.
Toddy Puller, Lewis Puller’s wife, followed Warner to accept the dedication. Toddy has served in the Virginia General Assembly since 1991 in both the House of Delegates and the State Senate. She expressed gratitude to the law school for its focus on veterans.
“We owe [veterans] so much,” Toddy said. “They have given so much, they don’t ask for anything and they go over and fight for us and preserve our health and our safety here at home.”
Puller told of her husband’s injury in Vietnam and how he would have appreciated the Veterans Benefit Clinic.
After graduating from law school, Lewis Puller worked on President Gerald Ford’s Clemency Board and as a service director for Paralyzed Veterans of America. From 1978 until his death, he was a member of the Department of Defense’s Office of the General Council.
Lewis Puller returned to Vietnam in 1993, and with the help of journalist and veteran Terry Anderson — as well as actress Kieu Chinh — elected to build schools for Vietnamese children.
Currently, over 58,000 children are taught in 41 schools nation-wide, including the Lewis B. Puller, Jr. School in the capital of the Quang Tri Province.
The ceremony included the remarks of current law students who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as a closing toast from classmate Col. Anthony Tokarz J.D. ’74.