Legal Services for Veterans
Veterans and their eligible family members are entitled to many benefits, including some free legal assistance services.
Depending on what kind of service you need, there are several avenues for pursuing legal benefits. Several assistance options are available if you need guidance crafting a will or estate plan, reviewing lease/rental agreements and contracts, planning an adoption, or other matters.
On-Base Legal Services
Most bases have a Legal Assistance Office, which offers help for routine legal issues including but not limited to:
- Drafting powers of attorney
- Drafting wills
- Guiding estate planning
- Family law advice on legal adoption, marriage, divorce
- Reviewing contracts and leases
- Providing notary services
These offices do not assist with criminal law issues, and the lawyers who work there cannot represent you in court.
According to the DoD, “For criminal matters or other issues not available through your installation’s Legal Assistance Office, you’ll most likely want to consider a private civilian attorney. If you’re facing discharge or criminal prosecution by the military, you can seek assistance from a Military Defense Counsel.”
Military Defense Counsel is a separate entity from the Legal Services Office on base. According to the DoD, “Military Defense Counsels are certified judge advocates.
They provide independent and confidential legal representation and advice” for military members who are suspected of committing a crime or who face military disciplinary action.
According to the DoD, you can seek help from Military Defense Counsel in cases including “pretrial investigations, other investigations and administrative separation proceedings. They can also help with letters of reprimand, denial or revocation of a security clearance and court-martial proceedings.”
Legal Services Through the Department of Veterans Affairs
Many VA facilities offer free legal clinics throughout the continental United States (CONUS). You can find information about these clinics on this list, broken down by state.
It’s important to note that the contacts on this list are not attorneys. If you choose to email a provider, it will not be protected under attorney-client privileges and is not considered secure communication.
While these contacts can provide additional information about the legal providers who operate inside their facilities, they cannot give legal advice, determine your eligibility for services, or schedule an appointment for you.
How Legal Services Can Help
Legal services will vary by location but can generally help with the following needs:
- Powers of attorney
- Lease and rental contract reviews
- Living will
- Estate planning
- Family care plan
- Notary services
- Tax assistance
- Family law
- Civil lawsuits
- Immigration and naturalization
Restrictions on free legal help
There are some restrictions to be aware of when seeking help. Legal assistance offices cannot provide advice under certain circumstances, including:
- Providing legal advice to third parties or opposing parties on the same issue
- Claims against the government
- Criminal matters (service members may be entitled to free representation from the military defense counsel under their specific branch of service)
- Citations for driving under the influence (see above)
- Legal matters concerning a privately owned business
- In-court representation
Stateside Legal offers various legal services, including self-help tools, discharge upgrades, health, housing, education, employment debt, family, criminal concerns, and resources specific to women and the LGBTQ+ community.
Stateside serves Veterans, service members, people with military experience, and their families.
VetLex is a dedicated network of coordinated pro-bono legal service providers. They connect veterans to these providers.
Most of VetLex’s work focuses on discharge upgrades and VA disability benefits, but they do have some services for other legal needs in select locations. To use this resource, you will enter information about your legal situation, and then VetLex will connect you to a volunteer attorney in your area.
American Bar Association
American Bar Association (ABA) Free Legal Answers for Veterans is a virtual legal advice portal where income-eligible Veterans and survivors can submit questions about non-criminal legal issues.
Attorneys accredited with the VA volunteer to answer questions about VA benefits, discharge upgrades, and similar issues.
National Resource Directory
The National Resource Directory (NRD) offers a broad search for legal resources.
The NRD is a database of validated resources that supports recovery, rehabilitation, and reintegration for service members, Veterans, family members, and caregivers.
If you type “legal services” in the NRD search bar, it gives you a list of non-governmental organizations that offer free legal services to Veterans and service members. You can customize your search by state, city, and zip code.
Contact numbers and emails are available.
Common Military Scenarios That Call for an Attorney
Military legal services are excellent for handling routine legal matters, but some scenarios require an attorney.
These may include:
- Personal injury
- Disciplinary action
- Civil rights issues
- Criminal Defense
A military attorney may be able to provide help with your legal needs. There are two types of “military attorneys.”
One is a military officer with a law degree who can help you with a specific range of issues such as living wills, powers of attorney, and related matters.
Military attorneys in this context cannot represent you in civil matters. But these attorneys can give you legal advice as it pertains to your status as a military member or military-affiliated person.
There are also civilian attorneys who specialize in military law who assist you in navigating the unique challenges you are facing. These lawyers can assist you in civil cases or other areas an attorney in uniform may not be able to help you with.
Some common ways that a military attorney can help you include:
- Superior knowledge of military law. Military lawyers have studied the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) and understand the nuances of military law.
- Access to military-specific resources. Military lawyers can access military-specific resources to help you with your case.
- An understanding of military culture. Military lawyers understand the military’s unique culture, including the chain of command and the importance of following orders.
These are just a few of the ways that a military attorney can prove to be an invaluable asset. If you are facing any legal challenges in the military or civilian world, it is essential to speak with an attorney who can help you navigate the system and ensure your rights are protected.
Military attorneys or legal services can handle most legal matters, but if you’re facing serious charges (such as insubordination, desertion, or criminal charges like assault), hiring a civilian attorney can make a significant difference in your case. Civilian attorneys spend years focusing on a specific area, making them experts in their practice.
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