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.
Sen. Steve O’Ban, R-Pierce County is the prime sponsor of Senate Bill 6300. O’Ban represents the 28th District, which includes Joint Base Lewis-McChord and surrounding communities.
The proposed legislation will create a one-stop shop for legal assistance and pro bono services provided by community organizations and private attorneys.
“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.”
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.
“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.”
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.