Legal aid outside the military is provided to lower and middle-income people unable to pay for legal services themselves. Legal aid is either free or facilitated with minimal charges. Inside the military, and for Reservists, military retires, dependents of active or retired military personnel and federal civilian employees, legal aid is a conditional entitlement.
Current and former U.S. military service members, including their families, are eligible to have numerous civil legal matters handled at no charge. Military legal aid services also cover cases related exclusively to the military and military-based situations. Read on for important information about legal aid for the military and how to get the help you need.
Types of Cases Covered by Military Attorneys
The types of cases covered by military attorneys are broken into two general, albeit unofficial categories. There are civil case matters similar to or exactly like those happening in civilian life. There are also cases related to specific military situations. Military attorneys are appropriately educated and qualified to handle all these case types with extreme proficiency. They of course specialize in the cases specific to military-based scenarios and these types of services tend to prove highly useful for both active and former U.S. Military personnel.
One way in which military attorneys are available to offer guidance and advice to eligible personnel is by practicing preventative law. Preventative law faces potential problems, facts, accusations and other issues prior to them becoming formal legal matters. While this type of law is often typical of medical situations/records, its application is also widespread for other situations involving potential discipline leading up to and including discharge from military service. Other case types covered by military attorneys and unique to military service include military-based offenses, court-martials and landlord/tenant disputes. While landlord/tenant disputes are also common in civilian civil law scenarios, they also apply to military personnel in unique ways. For example, military life requires frequent relocations. Sometimes these relocations are ordered without much notice and may lead to legal resistance by landlords.
A Court-Martial is the definitive outcome of a military-based criminal trial. Military attorneys file appeals against Court-Martials, while also representing clients in military court for hearings, formal and informal questions, actual trials and sentencing. Offenses leading to Court-Martials are processed with the highest degree of seriousness. These types of offenses include combat-related murder, insubordination to superiors and disappearance from active duty without official authorization. There are three types of the latter offense, including Unauthorized Absence (UA), being Absent Without Leave (AWOL) and Desertion. Desertion is the worst type of this offence and involves being AWOL for 30+ days.
Civil matter cases covered by military attorneys include issues similar to those in civilian life, such as estate/trust planning and the writing of wills. Military attorneys also cover family law matters including divorce and child custody/support cases pending client eligibility. Additional case types covered by military attorneys include debt relief, debt collection, scams, power of attorney, identity theft and more.
How to Qualify for Military Legal Aid
Qualifying for military legal aid is largely dependent on your active U.S. Military status and the nature of the case requiring legal representation. Legal assistance is automatically provided free of charge to certain groups of military personnel. Every active duty and Reserve component member of the U.S. military is eligible. Reservists serving 30+ days but released from duty are eligible as well. U.S. Military retirees and their dependents are also able to qualify for military legal aid, in addition to federal civilian employees and their dependents. Federal civilian employees and their dependents along with military retirees and their dependents are subject to limited availability of legal aid services. All legal aid services, however, are provided pending the availability of applicable personnel and resources capable of facilitating this type of free assistance.
The Military Pro Bono Project is another way to qualify for military-based legal aid services. The ABA Military Pro Bono Project is a part of the ABA Standing Committee on Legal Assistance for Military Personnel (LAMP). The programs jointly serve as liaisons, referring financially eligible U.S. military personnel to accepting legal aid attorneys.
Benefits of Having Legal Aid
The benefits of having legal aid in military life are similar to those in civilian life, with a few notable and important exceptions. Legal aid attorneys educate their clients about their rights. They also guide clients regarding case responsibilities and court behavior/etiquette.
Military legal aid attorneys also help gather, file and submit all required paperwork. There is verbiage along with nuances and caveats to the legal system, whether civilian or military. Military legal aid attorneys help guide their clients around potential pitfalls and through the many legal labyrinths involved in complicated court cases.
Unique to military court cases including those resulting in Court-Martials, military legal aid attorneys are educated and trained to achieve the best legally-possible results for their clients. This is especially true for situations involving Court-Martials, however it also applies to simpler cases such as landlord-tenant disputes or the challenging of incorrect medical records. Having the guidance of a military legal aid attorney helps assure you victory and/or the best results with facing legal questions or challenges.
Additional Resources for Military Legal Aid
There are additional resources available related to obtaining military legal aid. Operation We Are Here provides a long list of support organizations and hotlines pertaining to legal assistance and advice for military veterans. There are also legal resources available for each specific branch of the U.S. Military, including the: