U.S. Senator Herb Kohl's Justice for Troops Act is included in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012 which passed the Senate yesterday. In May, U.S. Senator Herb Kohl and Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) introduced the Justice for Troops Act to help connect service members to quality pro bono legal assistance. This legislation would authorize the Department of Defense to use funds from its operation and maintenance budget to support programs connecting attorneys offering pro bono legal assistance to service members in need of assistance. The Justice for Troops Act is also co-sponsored by Senators Mark Begich (D-AK), Al Franken (D-MN), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Tom Harkin (D-IA), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Bill Nelson (D-FL), Olympia Snowe (R-ME), Mark Udall (D-CO), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI).
"The legal system can be confusing and complex for those not completely familiar with the ins and outs of the court system. It is often difficult to know where to turn. It is no different for the members of our military, except that many of them are looking for legal representation while serving our country in another state or overseas," Kohl said. "This legislation helps bridge the gap between the many lawyers willing to help service members for free and the service members who are in need of legal help."
Kohl's legislation offers a simple solution to a serious problem that affects the well-being of our troops and their families. There is an increasingly large number of troops deployed around the world. They have access to legal assistance on-base from Judge Advocate General (JAG) officers, but those JAGs generally cannot appear in court or assist in cases that arise in other parts of the country. When these troops face civil legal problems -- like a child custody issue, or a dispute over a bank account -- they often have no access to legal assistance. Without representation, they could run the risk of losing custody of their child or facing financial ruin. Prolonged and repeated deployments make a bad situation worse, and the unresolved burdens at home are a threat to military readiness during deployment.
There are many lawyers nationwide willing to help service members on a pro bono basis, but efforts to connect troops with those lawyers have been limited. The Justice for Troops Act would connect these service members in need of civil legal assistance with attorneys offering such assistance pro bono, while also supporting outreach to JAG offices on military bases across the country to increase awareness of this service. This legislation would authorize the Department of Defense to use funds already appropriated for operation and maintenance to support any programs that connect troops in need with pro bono attorneys.
The Justice for Troops Act is supported by the Department of Defense, Military Officers Association of America, the Southern Wisconsin Chapter of the Military Officers Association of America, the National Military Family Association, the National Guard Association of the United States, the Wisconsin National Guard Association, the Association of the US Army, the Air Force Association, the Gold Star Wives of America, the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, and the Reserve Officers Association.