By Jeremy Henderson, Army Flier Staff WriterJuly 17, 2017
FORT RUCKER, Ala. -- Free legal assistance services can be some of the most valuable benefits available to Soldiers and their Families on post -- or some of the most under-utilized.
Capt. Daniel Hancock, Fort Rucker Office Staff of the Judge Advocate Client Services Chief, said Soldiers are often unaware of the different types of legal services available to them on post.
"I believe there are quite a few Soldiers, retirees and dependents who do not realize what sorts of legal assistance services are available to them," Hancock said. "It seems that when people hear 'JAG,' they only think of prosecutors or the people who give Articles 15. While there are judge advocates who do those things, there is a large section of our office that exists exclusively to help Soldiers, retirees and their Family members with personal legal issues."
What services are offered by the legal assistance office? "We assist clients with wills, powers of attorney, notarizations, income tax preparation, certain landlord/tenant issues, Service Member's Civil Relief Act issues, uncontested divorce, Army Regulation 608-99 Family Support, assistance with rebuttals for military administrative actions, debt collection, and claims assistance (household goods shipments, etc.)," Hancock said.
"This is a good place to mention attorney-client privilege," he added. "Legal assistance attorneys are one of the few positions in the Army in which our loyalty and professional responsibilities to our clients outweigh our professional obligation to the Army.
"When it comes to a conflict between our client and the Army, our client wins," he continued. "Anything a client shares with a legal assistance attorney during the representation is private, except in a few limited circumstances, such as if the client threatened to injure themselves or another person. Clients can take comfort in the fact that whatever they share will not make it back to their commanders, or anyone else for that matter."
According to Hancock, the free legal services offered on post can help Soldiers, retirees and Family members save money up front and down the road.
"Civilian attorneys off-post are often very expensive -- some charging hundreds of dollars per hour of work," he said. "In addition to helping our clients save money up front, many of our actions often help return money to a client's pocket. So far in 2017, two of our success stories have been saving a client nearly $6,000 by helping them to resolve a case of mistaken identity with a major national company. In another instance, we were able to get an assessment of financial liability of over $8,000 removed by the Soldier's unit."
Hancock said people can rest assured that military attorneys are some of the very best available, and they are experts in areas that frequently concern service members and their Families. "Army judge advocates are picked competitively from the best and brightest attorneys. The JAG Corps typically selects only 10 to 20 percent of civilian applicants and junior officer applicants each year. The competitive nature of the program ensures that we only hire the most skilled, competent and professional attorneys our nation has to offer.
"Additionally, Army judge advocates receive several months of Army-specific legal training to make them subject matter experts in military law and service-connected issues," he added. "Many civilian attorneys off-post will not have the military-specific expertise that comes with being an Army judge advocate."
The SJA office also houses the Special Victim Counsel Program. The purpose of the SVC Program is to provide zealous advocacy for the victims of sexual assaults throughout the Military Justice process. Victims of sexual assault are entitled to certain services and protections, and the SVC is the attorney that represents a victim through the entire process, from reporting to court-martial and beyond. If a reader needs SVC assistance, he or she should contact Hancock at 334-332-9673.
For more information about legal services offered on post at Fort Rucker, call 255-3482 to make an appointment. Soldiers, retirees and family members may also visit Bldg. 5700, Rm. 320 Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 8:30 a.m. until 4:30 p.m., and Thursdays from noon until 4:30 p.m.
For all other installations, please visit http://legalassistance.law.af.mil/content/locator.php.