Veteran Advocate Featured

9:57am EDT July 22, 2002

Michael Dunlavey’s law office is across the street from a veterans outreach center, but his relationship to fellow veterans is much closer than the simple matter of his address.

Dunlavey, a partner in the Erie law firm Dunlavey, Ward & Pagliari, fits the description of veteran advocate as perfectly as anyone could.

In fact, Dunlavey’s work as a veteran’s advocate over his 25-year law career is so compelling that he has been chosen not only as the Pittsburgh District’s veteran advocate, but as the recipient of the SBA’s national award in the category.

Dunlavey estimates that he has helped between 100 and 150 veterans over the past five years alone. He’s assisted vets in everything from filing paperwork to get their benefits to advising business owners involved in start-ups, turnarounds, bankruptcies and liquidations. He metes out advice, such as where to go for financing, and help with business plans.

He’s particularly proud of steering a vet away from a deal that would have meant a huge investment, in which the client was going to assume nearly all of the financial risk and, in the process, jeopardize his business. His client backed away. The business did a belly flop.

Often, he says, his pro bono work is the toughest in his practice. Dealing with government agencies can be tedious, and vets by nature, he says, are hard-working but often reluctant to ask for help.

“It seems that vets have a ‘don’t quit’ attitude,” says Dunlavey.

That approach can make for a tenacious entrepreneur, but can be self-destructive as well. Too often, Dunlavey explains, they will stick with a business or an idea that ends up failing because they simply don’t want to give up. Or, they wait too long to get help.

“Usually, I get a phone call after they get into trouble,” says Dunlavey.

Dunlavey does a lot of work with Vietnam vets, but more recently, veterans of the Desert Storm campaign have approached him for help.

Dunlavey, a Vietnam-era veteran who still serves as a major general in the Army reserves and is an active member of the Vietnam Veterans of America, does it all from his law office in Erie. His building, not surprisingly, is across the street from a veterans outreach center.

His pro bono work on behalf of vets isn’t simply from referrals from the nearby outreach center. An informal network has developed that brings clients from a variety of sources, including, but not restricted to, his military reserve unit.

Says Dunlavey: “There isn’t an underground railroad, per se, but the word gets out.”