WASHINGTON -- Families in the Exceptional Family Member Program now have more resources to reach out to when they have legal questions about their rights.
Close to 40 Army legal practitioners recently completed additional training to better support families with special education-related needs, said Melissa Halsey, legal assistance policy division chief for the Office of the Judge Advocate General.
"Education is important," she said in an interview Tuesday. "Understanding that a child has received the education that they're entitled to" dictates a family's quality of life. "Sometimes, that requires help from a legal assistance attorney to advocate on your behalf."
Tied to a larger Department of Defense-led initiative to bolster legal assistance for all EFMP families, the Army now has a knowledgeable legal representative at 22 of its installations, spread throughout 15 states and parts of Germany, Halsey added.
Locations include: Alabama, Alaska, California, Colorado, Washington, D.C., Georgia, Hawaii, Louisiana, Missouri, North Carolina, New York, Oklahoma, Texas, Virginia, and Washington. Nine of the states currently support the Army's largest EFMP populations.
In total, more than 140 service attorneys, paralegals and EFMP family support providers from all the military services completed a weeklong William & Mary Law School online training course about special education law in June, Halsey said.
"The vast majority of the attendees had no experience in this area of law before taking the course," she said. After the course, they reported feeling that they’ve significantly expanded their knowledge in this area of the law and were better prepared to assist clients in need, she added.
The Army plans to continue with this type of training to gain further competence in this area.
"The Army's legal assistance attorneys are well-versed in family law, estate planning, and things of that nature," she added. "Special education law is different … and is not a typical subject an attorney would learn in law school. [Attorneys] can go months without seeing a client with questions in this area."
Halsey emphasized that all EFMP parents living in other locations will also have access to legal services tied to their special education rights. Through a partnership with the American Bar Association, Army legal representatives can now connect eligible families to a volunteer attorney.
"The 22 legal assistance offices that now have a practitioner trained in this area are prepared to provide a more in-depth level of service," she said. "However, all legal assistance offices can provide resources or point clients in the right direction to get more information."
Through a pro bono military program, Soldiers at the rank of staff sergeant and below can gain access to a volunteer attorney in their community. For more information, Soldiers should contact their installation's EFMP family support office or legal office for further assistance.
“The JAG Corps is focused on making life better for Soldiers and families, wherever the Army takes them,” said Lt. Gen. Charles N. Pede, the Army’s JAG. “We constantly seek ways to enhance the legal support we provide to commanders, Soldiers and family members.”