Pro Bono: Lawyer’s know-how helps get cash to wounded soldiers

Posted: 1:00 am Mon, March 3, 2008
By admin

 
 


Raymond J. Sherbill helped his former bookkeeper, N. Garland Miller, set up a foundation to collect and distribute donations to injured veterans recovering at Walter Reed. N. Garland Miller began giving cash to wounded soldiers after a tile installer working at her Chevy Chase home told her about his nephew who had been badly injured in Iraq and was struggling economically while recovering at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

After two years of cutting personal checks to ailing troops she learned about through friends and neighbors who worked at the hospital, Miller decided to establish a foundation to collect donations and give them directly to soldiers in need. Miller had served as bookkeeper to attorney Raymond J. Sherbill’s law firm, the now-defunct Ridberg, Sherbill & Aronson LLP, for 10 years, so she turned to him for advice.

“I said, ‘Ray, do you know anyone who does foundation work?’” Miller recalled. “And Ray said, ‘I do.’” “I’ve worked with charities…,” Sherbill said. “So I looked at it and said I would do it.”

Sherbill set up the protocols and procedures for the foundation’s work, and applied for tax-exempt nonprofit status. Meanwhile, Miller met with Gen. George W. Weightman, who was in charge of the hospital, and received approval to give directly to individual soldiers.

Miller said the Bethesda business transactions attorney filed the 62-page package with the Internal Revenue Service in late December 2006, and the Combat Soldiers Recovery Fund was born in January 2007.

“We got it in two weeks because his work was so good. It was mind-boggling,” said Miller, whose bookkeeping firm, Schoolfield & Associates, handles the administration of the fund from the basement of her home. “And he did it all for free.”

To date, the all-volunteer operation has raised more than $130,000 and dispensed all of it — no overhead costs — to soldiers housed at Walter Reed. “It’s not nearly enough, but it does make a difference,” said Sherbill.

Miller said she only learns how the money is spent through thank-you notes. Typically, soldiers will use the grants to pay bills, buy clothes or cover other necessities, she said. “They’re traumatically wounded and have all sorts of problems adjusting to a life as a different human being,” said Sherbill. “They don’t need the problem of not having enough money for their daughter to buy a dress or not being able to drive somewhere.”

To receive CSRF aid — usually a $300 check — soldiers submit a postcard to Sandra Halmon, events coordinator and Miller’s “point person” at the hospital. Halmon passes them on to Miller, who generally honors requests on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Sherbill, who said he has never visited Walter Reed and doesn’t feel any need to, also leverages his access to well-heeled client companies to keep the coffers full. “I will get a call from Garland that ‘I have a stack of cards, and I need money,’” he said.

Sherbill, who joined Lerch, Early & Brewer Chtd. in October, said he regularly includes the fund’s Web site, www.combatsoldiersrecoveryfund.org, in e-mails to clients.

One client, Steve George of Atteloir Inc., a Germantown IT defense contractor, sent Sherbill a $10,000 check last spring. Miller said U.S. Rep. Charles B. Rangel, D-N.Y., and companies such as AT&T and Marathon Oil have also contributed. Miller and Sherbill remain committed to the project’s growth.

In February, Miller made online contributions possible through the CSRF Web site. This spring, the group plans to expand its board, find more volunteers and branch out to a second military hospital, the Hunter Holmes McGuire VA Medical Center in Richmond, Va.

Sherbill says Miller “does it all.”

Miller, though, defers to her lawyer. “If it hadn’t been for Ray, we wouldn’t be where we are,” she said.