One hundred years ago, on Nov. 11, 1919, President Woodrow Wilson signed a proclamation for the first “Armistice Day” to commemorate the end of fighting in World War I. In the intervening 100 years, Armistice Day was rebranded as Veterans Day to recognize the contributions and sacrifices of succeeding generations.
No matter what it has been called or when it’s been observed, the purpose of the holiday has remained consistent: to honor those who served. On Veterans Day, we reflect with solemn pride and gratitude for those who have served our country in uniform, both because of their role in defending our freedoms and because of the sacrifices these individuals have been willing to make in service of something greater than themselves.
A smaller and smaller proportion of the population has been shouldering these sacrifices. Despite the fact that the U.S. is engaged in the longest military conflict in our country’s history, fewer people (as a share of the overall population) are serving in active military service than at any time since before WWII. This has led to an increased and unprecedented reliance on reservists and National Guard troops.
The possibility of short-notice deployments, frequent moves, and difficulty returning to civilian life are all part of the realities of military service. It is also a reality that such situations can sometimes create or exacerbate unique legal challenges. A recent survey conducted by my office found that almost 60 percent of military and veteran households in Washington state faced at least one legal issue within the last year. Unfortunately, more than half of these military and veteran households did not pursue legal assistance, primarily due to financial constraints.
In the first official Veterans Day proclamation in 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower called upon all citizens to “reconsecrate ourselves to the task of promoting an enduring peace” so the efforts of our nation’s veterans will not have been in vain.
As military service becomes less common, it is especially important to remember the importance and the purpose of the Veterans Day holiday. And so this year, in conjunction with the 100th anniversary of the first commemoration of the holiday, I am issuing a call to action for my colleagues in the legal community:
Honor the service of military and veteran families by committing to help address their unmet legal needs. Legal professionals of all stripes can help support these families’ ability to live a peaceful and productive life.
For attorneys and other legal professionals interested in answering this call, there are many ways you can do so. For example, through the Washington State Bar Association’s Call to Duty pledge, which asks you to commit to serving Washington veterans in a variety of ways. One such way is to participate in a legal clinic focused on serving military service members and veterans.
The Attorney General’s Office of Military and Veteran Legal Assistance, which was created with support from the state Legislature, is working to coordinate such legal clinics in various locations around the state. At these clinics, military service members and veterans can get help with various civil legal issues. Issues addressed thus far include basic will preparation, select family law matters, small claims court assistance, and driver’s license reinstatement.
The Office of Military and Veteran Legal Assistance works to match service members and veterans experiencing legal issues with volunteers who are ready to help. The Office of Military and Veteran Legal Assistance also offers trainings and is working to expand the subjects for which trainings are available.
I encourage attorneys and others interested in serving Washington military and veteran communities to look at the available volunteer opportunities and, hopefully, register as a volunteer. Please visit the Office of Military and Veteran Legal Assistance Volunteer Opportunities page for more information.
Together, we can promote an enduring peace by ensuring our state’s military service members and veterans know that the legal community stands in support of their service to our country.
There is no better time than this Veterans Day, 100 years after the holiday’s first observance, to demonstrate that the legal community is also willing to make sacrifices of their time, talent, and energy in service of something greater than themselves.