Each year on Veterans Day, we pause to honor those who have served in our armed forces. We should never forget their contributions to our safety, security, and health. Over the past year, service members have been called to the front lines of historic challenges, including management of the COVID-19 pandemic and fighting wildfires threatening communities across our state.
Across the nation, National Guard soldiers and airmen have been activated to work alongside first responders to address the COVID-19 pandemic. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, members of the Washington National Guard have staffed testing sites, food banks, and call centers working to track the spread of this dangerous virus across our state. Service members also coordinated with Washington farmers who donated tons of produce to help meet food needs as many Washingtonians faced economic and food insecurity due to COVID-19.
This year, Gov. Jay Inslee also activated members of the Washington National Guard to battle devastating wildfires across the state. These brave men and women kept us safe protecting homes, businesses, agriculture, natural resources, and public facilities.
Their invaluable work on these challenges further illustrates the importance of the service of men and women in uniform. We must honor all of those who answer the call to meet the needs of our nation and put their own health and safety on the line to protect us, whether from a deadly virus, devastating wildfires or threats overseas.
While we honor service members who rise to these challenges, we must also remember that service members and veterans always need our support. My office honors their service and sacrifices by working to meet civil legal needs through its Office of Military & Veterans Legal Assistance (OMVLA).
Through the Military Engagement & Directed Advocacy by Lawyers (MEDAL) Program, OMVLA facilitates direct representation for military service members and veterans. The MEDAL Program receives requests for legal assistance and refers qualified requests to registered volunteer attorneys who can offer assistance with self-selected civil legal issues. This work relies on the generosity of volunteer attorneys and advocates willing to answer their own call to fight for our service members and veterans.
In honor of their sacrifices, I encourage WSBA members to join this effort to support military service members and veterans as they have supported us, by volunteering your time to provide pro bono assistance to military service members and veterans.
This work is rewarding, but don’t take my word for it. Lisa Kelley, an assistant attorney general in my office, shared the following about her experience as a volunteer:
“I wanted to find a way to express my gratitude for the opportunities military service has provided to my son, who is on active duty in the Navy. When I learned about the OMVLA, I decided to concentrate my pro bono efforts on veterans’ issues. Now I am certified to handle veterans’ benefits cases and have taken some free training available online. Over the summer I connected with the OMVLA to find a client; OMVLA connected me with the Northwest Justice Project, and I received an introduction to a disabled veteran who needed some help working with DSHS and Social Security to clear up a garnishment. In the process I have learned some new things, and have made a new friend who has very much appreciated the support. Representing a veteran has been a rewarding experience and I encourage others who are looking for pro bono opportunities to consider doing the same.”
Anyone interested in joining this effort can sign up to volunteer on the Office of Attorney General website.
In the past year, the OMVLA has received and responded to hundreds of requests for legal assistance on issues ranging from family law to business law to consumer and property law to inquiries for assistance putting together wills. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has increased the need for civil legal assistance, including for veterans and military service members.
As a legal community, we can continue to honor the sacrifices made by our service members and veterans by stepping up to meet that need—and maybe we can begin to repay them for the support that they have so generously provided to us all.