June 7, 2011 - The Justice for Troops Act, recently introduced by Wisconsin Senator Herb Kohl and Senator Lindsey Graham (R - SC), will divert up to 500,000 dollars of currently appropriated federal funding to programs that will connect low-income citizens serving in the armed forces with pro bono legal assistance.
As the number of military personnel deployed overseas has increased since 2001, the legal needs of military service members in lower pay grades have also grown. While Judge Advocate General (JAG) Officers can provide legal assistance to service personnel and their families on base, they are unable to represent service members in court or to provide legal assistance in other parts of the country. Thus, many service members from Wisconsin and other states have no effective access to legal assistance in cases involving consumer, family, benefit and other civil legal issues. These unmet needs create logistical and psychological burdens for affected service members and can erode effective military readiness.
Though this need is ever increasing and there are many attorneys prepared to volunteer their time to help these individuals, efforts to connect attorneys with service members in need of pro bono assistance have been limited. The Justice for Troops Act hopes to solve that problem by providing funding to programs that will make that connection.
The proposal authorizes the Department of Defense to release up to $500,000 of funds already appropriated for operation and maintenance to support any program that connects pro bono attorneys offering legal assistance with service members in need of that assistance.
An example of such a program is the Military Pro Bono Project, piloted in 2008 by the American Bar Association, that connects active-duty military personnel and their families to free legal assistance for civil legal issues beyond what JAG legal offices can offer. By providing adequate resources Senators Kohl and Graham hope to promote such programs and increase awareness of available services.
The State Bar of Wisconsin actively supports the Military Pro Bono Project and values the assistance it has provided to service members who would otherwise be unable to afford legal assistance. For more information about Pro Bono programs and opportunities at the State Bar of Wisconsin please contact Jeff Brown at (608) 250-6177, or (800) 444-9404, ext. 6177
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