Today we are seeing the needs of Military Families being raised to the level of national importance. First Lady Michelle Obama, along with Dr. Jill Biden, has made improving the lives of Military Families her signature issue. This is reflected in a proposed expansion in funding for Military support programs in the President’s 2011 budget. Improving the focus on Military Family issues is welcome, as the burdens placed on the men and women of our Armed Forces have increased throughout the past decade. National Guard, Army Reserve, and Active Duty Service Members have become accustomed to frequent and lengthy deployments overseas. This trend has imposed great challenges on our Military Families, which may not end upon the Service Member’s discharge into our already-sizable Veteran population. These challenges include, unfortunately, a full range of legal issues, many of which are unique to those currently and formerly serving in the Armed Forces.
A Defense Department study showed that legal issues and concerns are second only to career and mission issues as top stressors among Service Members. Noting the busy tempo and numerous requirements placed on the lives of Troops today, it's important to the Department that Troops have resources to address legal concerns and learn how to avoid being burdened by obligations they may not be able to handle. Educating Troops and expanding available resources are the best ways to ensure Troop readiness.
Problems associated with Service Members' legal concerns and issues extend well beyond personal lives, affecting their leaders, Unit readiness, and sometimes security. If a Service Member has personal legal problems, at some point it's going to become the Commander's problem. Commanders will be notified and will have to take time out to deal with the Service Member. Specifically, three legal issues are most prevalent:
- Family matters (e.g. child custody, divorce)
- Contract litigation
- Driving Under the Influence (DUI)
Real Life Experiences
- An Army Specialist in Florida bought a car on the Internet and sent partial payment to the vendor as agreed. The vehicle was delivered by the dealer at midnight to the Soldier’s home in Georgia. When the Soldier inspected the car the next morning, he found that the window was cracked and the car had significant mechanical issues, which were not disclosed by the seller previously. Estimates to repair the vehicle were more than $2,000. He could not afford both the repairs and paying the remaining balance on the vehicle, which was necessary to obtain title to license the vehicle. The seller refused to work with the Service Member’s JAG or the Better Business Bureau to make it right.
- An active duty Army Reservist, stationed in Virginia, had a teen-aged granddaughter who was abandoned by her biological mother in California. The mother, suspected of heavy drug use, left her daughter with her current boyfriend’s parents, who had no legal relationship to the child. The Reservist wanted to gain legal custody of his granddaughter, but he could not afford to hire an attorney.
- An Army Private stationed in Texas was contacted by the Wisconsin Department of Human Services about his child, who resided with its mother in Wisconsin. A report had been made concerning neglect of the child by the mother, as well as abuse in the home. Though the Soldier was able to take the child from the mother’s home and return to Texas, the legal proceedings regarding the child’s welfare were ongoing in Wisconsin. The Soldier needed counsel in Wisconsin in order to gain custody of the child. Complicating matters, the Soldier was imminently due to deploy to Iraq.
The Plan of Action
As these legal needs have grown, they have been met with many local, state, and national initiatives enabling attorneys to step forward to deliver much-needed legal help to Active-Duty Service Members and Veterans.
Although Military culture had historically adopted a “we take care of our own” attitude when it came to providing legal services to its Members, the Military legal assistance establishment is now grateful for the support of, and collaboration with, the private bar.
Together they act as a “force multiplier” to extend the range of services and legal counsel available to Service Members, many of which services are often delivered at a reduced cost or free-of-charge by the civilian attorneys.
The ABA Home Front includes an Information Center, which includes basic written guides geared towards public education of the law for Service members and their Families; Directory of Programs, which includes contact information and descriptions of programs and services that can potentially provide legal assistance to Military Families; and Military Pro Bono Center, where attorneys can volunteer to provide pro bono representation to Military Families through the ABA Military Pro Bono Project, or attorneys can join the new Operation Stand-By, which is an expansion of the Project, to be available to receive calls or emails from military legal assistance attorneys in need of guidance on state-specific legal information relating to the volunteer attorneys’ areas of expertise.
LAMP fosters the continued growth of the Military legal assistance programs, promotes the delivery of legal services to Military Personnel and their Family Members and to persons accompanying the Armed Forces outside the United States, on their personal legal affairs; and maintain close liaison with the Department of Defense, the Department of Homeland Security (with respect to the U.S. Coast Guard), the Military Services, bar associations, and appropriate committees of the Association to enhance the scope, quality, and delivery of free or affordable legal services to eligible legal assistance clients. A state-by-state listing of the efforts of bar associations to assist deployed and mobilized personnel is accessible from the LAMP website.
ABA YLD is the home for young lawyers. With over 150,000 members and 300 affiliated groups, the ABA YLD is the largest young lawyer organization in the world. The Division is committed to assuring it is best able to represent the newest members of the profession, ensuring that it reflects the society it serves, and providing young lawyers and young lawyer organizations with the tools and opportunities for professional and personal success.
Michigan Law School Clinics
Michigan’s six law schools each offer clinical programs as part of their curriculum. Law school clinics offer counsel or instruction in a particular field of law and provide low-income persons with an opportunity to obtain legal representation. Under Michigan Court Rules, law students may provide direct representation to clients while under the supervision of experienced attorneys. Expert faculty members, talented students, and the vast resources available to law schools combine to make law school clinics a valuable community resource.
American Bar Association (ABA) - Military Pro Bono Project
The ABA Military Pro Bono Project (Project) connects Junior-enlisted, Active-duty military personnel and their Families to civilian attorneys who will provide free representation for civil legal issues beyond the scope of services provided by military legal assistance offices. The Project accepts case referrals from military legal assistance attorneys (i.e., JAG attorneys) across the country and around the world, and connects these Servicemembers with pro bono attorneys throughout the United States.