From the Chair...

Standing Committee on Legal Assistance
for Military Personnel

Happy New Year! As I look back on 2011, I am so proud of the exceptional efforts by the LAMP Committee and the ABA to support our military personnel and their families. You made a difference! Our mission is to support the delivery of high-quality civil legal assistance services to the men and women of our armed forces and their families, and in 2011 we carried out this mission in a variety of ways. From putting on CLE programs for military attorneys around the country, to developing educational materials for publication, to collaborating with other ABA entities on matters affecting servicemembers, our committee worked hard to enhance the legal assistance available to servicemembers. We also coordinated with local and state bar military committees and the legal assistance leadership of the five service branches to create effective projects and initiatives meeting the legal needs of servicemembers, including in the operation of our national Military Pro Bono Project. We are proud to say that in 2011, the Project delivered access to justice for nearly 200 military members and their families for legal matters falling outside the scope of services provided by military legal assistance programs.

In addition to these activities, the LAMP Committee also engaged in policy advocacy on behalf of military personnel. We are uniquely positioned within the ABA to inform and educate the greater association about the civil legal issues facing military personnel and to promote improvements in the law to address problems that those in the military may encounter. We are proud of our achievements in the policy arena, particularly of those that occurred in 2011. At the 2011 ABA Annual Meeting, the House of Delegates passed our resolution addressing needed changes to the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) that will better prevent discrimination against servicemembers in their civilian employment, particularly for those returning from overseas combat deployments. In crafting the resolution, we relied on input from the Department of Labor Veterans’ Employment and Training Service on the recent issues it was seeing under USERRA.

Another 2011 policy advocacy success for LAMP that I would like to especially highlight here was our work on the Justice for Troops Act, S. 1106 (2011). This act grew out of a campaign we undertook with our ABA Governmental Affairs liaison in 2010 to educate key members of Congress about our ABA Military Pro Bono Project, and how our successful work through the Project makes clear the significant needs of our servicemembers for pro bono counsel and representation in a wide array of civil legal matters. In educating members of Congress on the lessons we have learned through the operation of our Project, we also sought to encourage them to find ways to provide funding for pro bono legal services that would further expand access to justice for active-duty military families.

Senator Herb Kohl (D-WI) understood our message and joined with Senator Lindsey Graham (R-FL) to introduce bipartisan legislation, titled the Justice for Troops Act of 2011, authorizing the Department of Defense to allocate funds to support private organizations operating services connecting military members with pro bono legal services. A large number of military service organizations, like the Military Officers Association of America and the National Military Families Association, expressed their support for the act, along with the Department of Defense itself. Not long after the bill was introduced, Senator Mark Udall (D-CO) joined as cosponsor and was instrumental in having the act’s language incorporated into the Senate’s 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

Ultimately, once the Senate’s version of the NDAA was reconciled with the U.S. House’s previously passed version of the Act, the Justice for Troops language was dropped from the final bill. In the process, however, we generated significant support for the concept of DoD funding for pro bono services, and we are looking forward to working with both the House and Senate to again include the bill’s language in next year’s NDAA. Even though we did not see Justice for Troops passed this year, we do view its creation as a milestone for our Committee. Just four years ago LAMP began promoting greater involvement by the civilian bar in the delivery of free legal services to military members. At that time, the concept represented a somewhat controversial shift away from the traditional "the military takes care of its own" model of legal assistance delivery, and our proposal to create a national pro bono referral program was not universally embraced. So to have moved the issue from that point, four years ago, to today where the Department of Defense publicly endorses spending money from its own budget to support civilian pro bono delivery programs through the Justice for Troops Act, is a testament to our Committee’s success in proving that legal service delivery can be effectively coordinated between the military and civilian bars through programs like our ABA Military Pro Bono Project.

On a separate note, I would like to thank Lieutenant Colonel Elizabeth L. Schuchs-Gopaul, the Staff Judge Advocate at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, AZ, for preparing our feature article for this issue of Dialogue on the legal needs of military families with special needs children. LtCol Schuchs-Gopaul is widely recognized as an authority and advocate on this topic, and she gave an excellent presentation on these issues at the LAMP-sponsored CLE program at Davis-Monthan this past November. In running her article, we hope that civilian attorneys will better understand the unique legal issues facing military families with special needs children and the important role lawyers can play in assisting them with these matters.

In closing, we look forward to a new year and new opportunities for the LAMP Committee to continue pressing forward to ensure that the legal rights of our nation’s servicemembers are protected to the fullest extent possible, and to further advance access to justice for those military members and their families in need of legal counsel.  We wish all of you a very happy and successful new year!