FORT JACKSON, S.C. -- Many people don't think of legal issues until they have one. With Reserve and National Guard troops deploying almost as often as the active duty Soldiers, readiness has been a critical concern for over a decade throughout the two conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as the various places in Eastern Europe, Africa or wherever else Citizen Soldiers may find themselves.
Part of the problem is the availability of military attorneys. "We just don't have enough lawyers to have one in every unit," said Master Sgt. Denise Underwood, the Chief Paralegal NCO at the 81st Regional Support Command. "When we were having SRPs (Soldier Readiness Processing) we had Soldiers that said they hadn't seen a lawyer in years." During these SRP events, Underwood was noticing that many of the legal issues were beyond those that are routine, such as Wills and Powers of Attorney. Many of the issues presented could not be resolved quickly and when a Soldier is deploying, putting them off until later is not the prime solution. Many of Soldiers also said there wasn't a lawyer in their area so they simply let legal issues fall by the wayside until SRP, as opposed to the active duty service members who have a Staff Judge Advocate office right there on the post where they are assigned.
To alleviate this problem, Underwood initiated and helped to organize a way to combine three legal assets: the lawyer, the online Army Regulations and the existing legal website JAGCNET into one accessible resource where the Soldier can do a self-assessment questionnaire and determine what his or her legal needs are. "If you combine all three," Underwood explained, "the Soldiers can go to one site and they can answer some of their own questions." As not everyone may have a legal question, this new system attempts to point the user in the right direction, linking the relevant regulations to the questions asked on the questionnaire. "It gives them instant results and also cuts down on the Soldier going to see an attorney when they really don't need to," she added.
"The questionnaire asks the Soldier a set of questions that are designed to determine if they have either a family or other legal situation that requires legal assistance or Trial Defense Service support," said Col. Elena Kusky of the Army Reserve Legal Command. According to Kusky, the checklist can be used as a part of the annual SRP but also whenever a Soldier wants to know if a change to a family situation or an administrative action at the unit requires legal support.
Based on answers to questions the system will produce a brief legal explanation of the significance of their positive answer and suggest the kind of legal assistance they might need. Once completed, a link to request legal assistance is provided as well as contact information for Legal Command.
All of this was coordinated by Underwood and through then Brig. Gen. Gill Beck, who was the commanding general of the Army Reserve Legal Command at the time. Beck, now a Maj. Gen. and 81st RSC commander, completely backed Underwood's efforts and had her coordinate with Legal Command and the Office of the Judge Advocate General's Legal Assistance Policy Division which resulted in the online questionnaire that is now live and available to Reserve and National Guard troops. There was a lot of checking and rechecking of the regulations as well as the technical aspects of adding new features to the existing site. Underwood gives a lot of credit to the webmasters of JAGCNET for their tireless efforts to make the new part of the site fully functional.
During annual training at the 81st RSC, Soldiers were given the opportunity to go on the site and go through the questionnaire. "I believe that the questionnaire raised awareness for Soldiers that may have had issues that they were not aware of," said Spec. Stacy Georgia, 81st RSC supply specialist. "Often times we do not think that certain elements of our lives need attention, and we over look them. The questionnaire brought those issues to the surface."
The questionnaire walks the Soldier through the most common situations that may require assistance and is confidential. No one else can access the Soldier's answers via the website. After the questionnaire is completed, the Soldier can print out a certificate to use as proof of a legal review during the SRP, and results of the questionnaire can be printed and kept for reference when consulting a lawyer. The questionnaire itself is maintained on the JAGCNET website for public access by all Soldiers by going to the site listed below and clicking on Reserve Soldier Legal Readiness Review (R-SLRR). In the future, a link to the questionnaire will be inserted into AKO under the "My Legal, Self Service" portal.For more information visit: https://www.jagcnet.army.mil/LRR