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Johns Hopkins UniversityArts and Sciences Magazine

Marshaling Arguments for the Wounded

bookAt a glance, the career of William Greenberg ’64 may look like two separate pieces: He works both as a corporate litigator and as a volunteer to help wounded veterans. But for Greenberg, a partner at McCarter & English, LLP, and a retired Army brigadier general, the two parts bring together his 40-plus years of experience in uniform and courtrooms.

"It's the combination of having seen 27 years of change in the military, and the big change in the strategic use of the Army Reserve component," says Greenberg, who founded the New Jersey State Bar Association's program for Military Legal Assistance and a related program for wounded veterans.

Greenberg joined the Army in 1967 after completing law school at Rutgers and two years of ROTC at Hopkins. He did not see combat duty in Vietnam, but his military experience did show him how the Army worked and how vulnerable wounded soldiers could be.

"The military is a very important part of our democratic society," notes Greenberg. Yet military experience is increasingly remote from the lives of Americans, he says. And wounded or injured soldiers have few defenders who know "how alone, unguided, and unprepared [they are] to deal with the system."

So in September 2006, Greenberg launched a program for New Jersey veterans to help Reservists who were called to active duty after 9/11 and wounded overseas. It broadly promotes free legal services, offering them help handling problems such as matrimonial issues, debtor/creditor rights, and re-employment.

His second effort focuses on Walter Reed Army Medical Center, where many soldiers who are injured or wounded overseas get a hearing to determine their medical military benefits. Greenberg represents almost all those cases involving New Jersey Reserve and National Guard soldiers, and is supported by volunteers from McCarter & English.

"All [these soldiers] are volunteers, many have multiple injuries or wounds, and all of them have deployed from their civilian lives," he says. Many waited for years in medical barracks, far from their homes and families, for their cases to be decided.

One of the first soldiers Greenberg represented was a staff sergeant in the New Jersey Army National Guard who had survived countless mortar attacks—he completed a total of 420 combat patrols in a year of the most intensive fighting in Iraq--before a severe traumatic brain injury left him with a high level of post-traumatic stress disorder and physical wounds.

Because the medical board hearings determine what level of disability each case warrants, they have a huge impact on individual soldiers, Greenberg notes. Advocacy at the hearing by someone who understands the system can make the difference between a soldier receiving only a one-time award of 10 percent of base pay, or receiving seven times that amount for the rest of his or her life, tax-free. "Our advocacy, skill, knowledge, and reasoning ability gets them up to where they ought to be," says Greenberg.

"I didn't realize it would be so significant," he says of the program, which has handled approximately 80 Guard and Reserve cases at Walter Reed. Last June, the New Jersey State Bar Foundation gave Greenberg its highest award, the Medal of Honor, for establishing the program.

Most recently, on Aug. 31, Greenberg was sworn in as chairman of the Reserve Forces Policy Board, which advises the secretary of defense on Reserve matters.

"I'm just doing what I can," says Greenberg. He insists his service pales next to that of Hopkins classmates such as Charles E. Aronhalt, who was killed in action in 1967 and posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, and for which a Class of 1964 scholarship is named. "It's among the highlights of my career," Greenberg says, "to positively influence a situation that, without a lawyer, would have an entirely different outcome."

Greenberg's pro bono work proceeds alongside his career as a trial attorney, mainly in federal and state courts. Recently he squeezed in a two-day trip to Washington for a Walter Reed hearing in the midst of an eight-week federal trial in Newark. Highlights from his career include defending hundreds of professors and teachers in tenure cases.

Greenberg has made three major gifts to Johns Hopkins through the years: One supports the varsity fencing team (he was a member of the first Hopkins team to win the Mid-Atlantic championship); a second funds the Greenberg Family Scholarship to help undergraduates needing assistance and Scandinavian students studying at Hopkins; and the third supports a scholarship for undergraduates studying at the SAIS Center at Bologna.

"Here's my fantasy," he says with a smile. "I'm old and sipping a martini on a flight to Italy, and a young person comes to my seat and says, 'Sir, I just wanted to tell you I'm going to Bologna on your scholarship, I'm on the fencing team with your assistance, and my sister from New Jersey is attending Hopkins on your family scholarship.'"

 

 

 

 

 

 

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