Office of Military and Veteran Legal Assistance would facilitate targeted pro bono legal services statewide
OLYMPIA — Attorney General Bob Ferguson today announced legislation to improve the delivery of legal assistance services to current and former military service members. The proposed legislation to create an Office of Military and Veteran Legal Assistance in the Attorney General’s Office authorizes the office to facilitate access to legal assistance programs and pro bono (volunteer) legal representation for military service members, veterans and their families.
The proposed legislation will create a one-stop shop for legal assistance and pro bono services provided by community organizations and private attorneys.
“The men and women of our armed forces face unique legal challenges,” Ferguson said. “This bill creates a framework for members of the legal community to show their appreciation for our military by offering pro bono services. As someone who comes from a family of veterans, I believe it is important to make sure that we are doing everything we can to help defend the legal rights of current and former military service members.”
While state law prohibits the Attorney General’s Office from directly providing legal advice or representation to individuals, the legislation also authorizes the Attorney General to actively recruit and train volunteer attorneys to participate in pro bono programs that offer targeted services to military service members and veterans.
Rep. Christine Kilduff, D-University Place, is the prime sponsor of House Bill 2496, and Sen. Steve O’Ban, R-Pierce County is the prime sponsor of Senate Bill 6300. Both lawmakers represent the 28th District, which includes Joint Base Lewis-McChord and surrounding communities.
“Those who defend our country and their families shouldn’t have to face a fight in court without the help of an attorney — especially when they’re busy fighting to protect the free world an ocean away,” Kilduff said.
“Support for current and former military members and their families comes in variety of ways,” O’Ban said. “Health care, frequent relocation and employment are often the most widely discussed challenges faced at home by the brave men and women who serve our country. However, accessible and cost-effective legal counsel is essential given the unique demands of serving in the military.”
"It is a common misconception that service members have unfettered access to legal services as a result of their military service,” said Mark San Souci, Northwest Regional Liaison for the Department of Defense. “The Judge Advocate General Corps attorneys in the military, however, cannot represent service members in a majority of civil matters. Because private attorneys sometimes cost more than a service member can afford, this puts a military family that needs help in a stressful position while facing deployments or other challenging military duties. The pro bono program being considered by Washington state's Attorney General and Legislature will provide free representation by highly qualified attorneys in Washington at only the cost of court filing fees. This is very much appreciated."
Standing up for Washington’s veterans and military families is a priority for Ferguson. Since taking office in 2013, he has released a legal resource guide to help educate veterans and military service members about their rights, requested legislation to improve their legal protections, and cracked down on unfair and deceptive schemes targeting veterans and military families.
For service members or veterans in need of immediate legal assistance, resources may be found through organizations such as the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, American Bar Association, Washington State Bar Association or Northwest Justice Project. WashingtonLawHelp.org is an online guide with specific information to help veterans and service members. More information about these and other resources can be found in the AG’s Veteran’s Legal Resource Guide.
The Office of the Attorney General is the chief legal office for the state of Washington with attorneys and staff in 27 divisions across the state providing legal services to roughly 200 state agencies, boards and commissions. Visit www.atg.wa.gov to learn more.
Peter Lavallee, Communications Director, (360) 586-0725; PeterL@atg.wa.gov