Fort Campbell’s Client Services offers assistance to Soldiers, Families during PCS

By Ethan Steinquest, Fort Campbell CourierJuly 8, 2022

Fort Campbell’s Client Services offers assistance to Soldiers, Families during PCS
The Office of the Staff Judge Advocate’s Client Services can assist Soldiers with drafting living wills, which are written legal instructions for health care providers if they are unable to make medical decisions themselves, and traditional wills to make sure their wishes are carried out if they sustain fatal injuries. (Photo Credit: Courtesy) VIEW ORIGINAL

FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. – When it’s time for a permanent change of station, or PCS, Soldiers and Families can save themselves from roadblocks by making the Office of the Staff Judge Advocate’s Client Services Office their first and last stop.

SJA Client Services, located at 2765 Tennessee Ave., can help clients with leases, powers of attorney, living wills and wills to ensure a more comfortable move – and the same services are available at each Army installation.

“A lot of times when service members are PCSing, they’re moving away from a comfort zone where they’ve been for a period of time,” said Capt. Vijay Mathew, legal assistance attorney, SJA Client Services, 101st Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault).

“We can facilitate a more streamlined process for them to move to their new place by helping them with documents that involve legal aspects like powers of attorney and wills, or by reviewing contracts, leases and more,” he said.

Servicemembers Civil Relief Act protections

The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, or SCRA, provides numerous protections for active-duty Soldiers during a PCS, so advising them on those rights is particularly important for Client Services.

“If there is an active-duty order of more than 90 days from the existing installation to any other place, Soldiers can avail or are entitled to the provisions of SCRA,” Mathew said. “A lot of Soldiers ask about that because when they’re PCSing they have questions about what’s going to happen to their lease.”

Mathew said Soldiers can terminate a lease with a 30-day written notice to their landlord if they fall under the SCRA’s provisions. The same applies to cellphone contracts and storage leases.

“We can help with SCRA and termination of leases, and we can also help people review contracts and leases before they sign one,” he said. “Whether you’re at Fort Campbell or moving over to any of the other installations, if you’re living off post you would at some point in time enter into a residential lease or contract.”

The SCRA can also protect Soldiers involved with litigation if they receive orders that prevent them from attending their court dates.

“If they have more than 90 days of active-duty orders, they can use the SCRA to stay the default judgment,” Mathew said. “Default judgment is entered if one party doesn’t show up to court, so the defendant or plaintiff can ask the court to issue a default judgment in their favor.”

Mathew recommends Soldiers and Families consult with Client Services to understand exactly how SCRA can help them through their PCS.

“We can advise them and give them legal recommendation as to what they can do under SCRA,” he said. “And we can talk to their landlords and let them know the provisions of SCRA are applicable in their situation. We cannot represent them in state courts, but SCRA doesn’t entail that we’re representing or talking to the court.”

Powers of attorney and wills

SJA Client Services may not be able to directly represent Soldiers in state court, but they can notarize legal documents like powers of attorney that may prove useful during a PCS.

Mathew said powers of attorney are legal documents that allow a designated person to act on some else’s behalf, which helps ensure everything is taken care of when a Soldier moves ahead of their Family.

“Let’s say that a Soldier is PCSing from Fort Campbell to Fort Bragg, North Carolina,” he said. “Maybe his wife is trying to figure out how to sell their property in Kentucky or Tennessee when she’s not on the deed, or someone’s PCSing to Europe and they want to assign power to the spouse to ship, sell or purchase their car. A power of attorney gives them the legal capacity to do that.”

Soldiers can also set up specialized powers of attorney dealing with matters like health care in case they’re hurt in an accident on the way to their destination.

“If I’m a service member traveling from Campbell to Bragg I may get in an accident where I’m completely incapacitated and cannot make decisions on my behalf,” Mathew said. “But if I assign someone the health care power of attorney to make decisions on my behalf, they’re capable of doing that. Without that document, the hospital would not let them act on my behalf.”

Client Services can similarly help Soldiers draft living wills, which are written legal instructions for health care providers if they are unable to make medical decisions themselves, and traditional wills to make sure their wishes are carried out if they sustain fatal injuries.

Other services

“We also advise them on Family care plans, which are required if both spouses are military,” Mathew said. “The Army believes that all personnel should be duty ready, so they can be called into duty at any point in time, and a Family care plan is pretty much outlining how they’re going to take care of the children if they have children together.”

A Family care plan allows parents to establish guidelines for caregivers when their orders take them both away from their children. That situation may be more likely to occur with a deployment than a PCS, but it can be an important consideration depending on the circumstances.

“We can also help with notary services or consumer issues,” Mathew said. “Let’s say a Soldier goes and buys or leases a vehicle ... in some cases they charge outrageous interest rates, and we can help them with those things within the provisions of SCRA where they can terminate leases and things like that.”

The entire bottom line of the legal services Client Services provides is mission readiness, Mathew said.

“The Army is a Soldier’s job, but they have a life beyond it with Families and loved ones who move along with them,” he said. “If they’re concerned about legal issues they’re engaged in outside the sphere of the Army and we can do anything to help, that makes them more confident and able to perform their jobs for the Army because they know we’re here to take care of them.”