AG Ferguson: Let’s Address the Unmet Civil Legal Needs of Veterans and Service Members

Two-Generation Family USA Military War Veteran Senior Men

Veterans Day presents an opportunity to pause and honor those who have served in our armed forces. As attorney general, I invite Washington’s legal community to consider how we all can support veterans and service members throughout the year.

The Attorney General’s Office honors the service and sacrifices of those who have served in our armed forces by working to meet their civil legal needs through our 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. OMVLA also coordinates training for volunteer attorneys to acquire the skills they need to address these civil legal needs.

I invite WSBA members to join this effort to support military service members and veterans as they have supported us, by volunteering your time to provide them with pro bono assistance. There is a significant unmet need for civil legal aid among veterans, service members, and their families.

I also invite you all to join the “Discharge Upgrades and the Lingering Impacts of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” CLE that my office is hosting on Nov. 17 in collaboration with the WSBA Legal Assistance to Military Personnel Section and Northwest Justice Project. The CLE will review how attorneys can represent clients through the process of obtaining a military discharge upgrade and provide insight into the lingering impacts of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT) on veterans.

Veteran benefits are one of the most impactful ways that we repay our debt to military members after their service. Benefits are awarded based on the discharge status of each veteran. Due to the harmful DADT policy, 114,000 troopswere involuntarily separated from the military for their sexual identity between the early 1940s and 2011.

Many of those individuals were assigned less than honorable characterizations of service and have separation documents that indicate that the veteran was unfit for service and listed their reason for separation as “homosexuality” or “homosexual conduct” or “homosexual admission.” This less than honorable discharge characterizations status has prevented veterans from obtaining benefits that are rightly theirs.

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) recently announced a change in policy to allow veterans with an other than honorable discharge characterizations of service based on homosexual conduct, gender identity, or HIV status to be given access to all VA benefits so long as there’s no statutory or regulatory bar to those benefits. The DADT CLE is an opportunity for advocates to learn more about discharge upgrades and how to assist those still living with the lingering impacts of this harmful policy.  

As part of honoring service members this Veterans Day, I invite Washington’s legal community to join the effort to support veterans and service members throughout the year. If you are interested in participating in the DADT CLE on Nov. 17, please register here. Additionally, if you are interested in volunteering through the MEDAL program to meet the civil legal needs of our veterans and service members, please sign up to volunteer on the Office of Attorney General website here.