A Sit Down with Tom Banning, IL Access to Civil Justice Council
Tom Banning is the newest member of the IL Access to Civil Justice Council, which oversees the IL Armed Forces Legal Aid Network. He currently serves as the Chief of the Illinois Attorney General’s Military & Veteran’s Rights Bureau.
In 30 seconds or less, how would you describe the IL Armed Forces Legal Aid Network (IL-AFLAN)?
It’s an incredible resource for veterans, service members, and dependents with legal issues and questions. IL-AFLAN effectively consolidates all pro-bono legal resources within the state and channels those resources directly to those who need them. By doing so, it helps to resolve the access to justice problem that plagues our state.
What do you feel is IL-AFLAN’s greatest achievement over the past year? And where do you see it going in the future?
IL-AFLAN’s greatest achievement is its growth. During the first year, IL-AFLAN provided legal assistance to 2,650 service members, veterans, and dependents. It has served about the same number in the first six months of its second year. This confirms the need for IL-AFLAN. In the future, I think this number will grow and, hopefully, IL-AFLAN will grow to meet the need.
You served in Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Just Cause. Was military service something you always aspired to, and what lessons did it teach you?
Military service was something I always looked up to and saw as an opportunity. My generation looked up to those who served in Vietnam. They were the examples that I wanted to follow. Vietnam veterans are unique because they served without the support of a nation. It’s an incredible example of personal devotion. While I’ve learned more lessons from military service than I can describe here, Vietnam veterans taught me the importance of standing up even when you have to stand alone.
Through your work at the Attorney General’s office and the IL Department of Military Affairs, what’s one thing you want people to know about veterans and their needs?
I want people to know that veterans need the help of the public to police military and veteran’s organizations through their elected officials. Over time, there is a tendency for the priority of these organizations to become the organization itself – subservient to the service it was intended for. As a case in point, our nation struggles to deal with the issue of veteran suicides. I believe that each of these suicides can be traced back to a point in time of failed leadership within a military or veteran organization responsible for the care of the veteran. The public plays a role in resolving problems faced by veterans by actively engaging with elected officials.