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"> News Releases - Division of Media Relations and Communication Services - American Bar Association

Release:

Immediate

Immediate Robin Rone
Phone: 312/988-5106
Email: [email protected]

 

NEW ABA REPORT UNDERSCORES URGENT NEED FOR BETTER LEGAL
PROTECTIONS FOR U.S. SERVICE MEMBERS

Greater legal consistency and voting rights among top working group concerns

 

ATLANTA, Aug. 6, 2004 - Citing the pressing need for greater, more consistent legal protections for our nation's men and women in uniform, including better absentee voting provisions and more equitable application of in-state tuition rates at public universities, American Bar Association President Dennis W. Archer today released a new report on the legal needs of service members.

"The brave women and men who serve in our nation's military place themselves in harm's way to protect the rights and freedoms our country holds dear. In return, we in the legal profession must do our best to safeguard their legal rights-including the right to vote and to have their vote counted-so that they are not diminished as a result of their military service," Archer said.

The "Report of the Working Group on Protecting the Rights of Service Members" has not been approved by the ABA's policy-making House of Delegates, and its recommendations do not represent official policy of the association unless otherwise stated in the report.

In August 2003, at the beginning of his term as ABA president, Archer announced the formation by the ABA Standing Committee on Legal Assistance to Military Personnel of the Working Group on Protecting the Rights of Service Members. It was charged with examining current laws as they relate to the men and women serving in the military and recommending new legal protections, if necessary, for service members who increasingly are called on to serve greater lengths of time while fulfilling their duties. The report is the outcome of that work.

One of the key issues addressed in the report is protecting the voting rights of National Guard members and Reservists. The report notes a recent study of the 2002 general election that showed nearly 40 percent of all absentee ballots issued weren't counted, due in part to the difficulty of the three-step application and submission process, which is even more complicated for service members stationed in far-away locations. Citing the difficulties of relying on the mail for balloting, the report recommends that electronic voting be instituted, in the form of the Department of Defense's Secure Electronic Registration and Voting Experiment project, and that the ABA work closely with states and the Defense Department to assure service members have the best possible opportunity to vote effectively.

Other areas examined by the Working Group are decedent's affairs, education, family law, the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA), including tax and real property issues, and employment issues under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act.

The report identifies several areas in need of improvement, including:

  • Consistent application of in-state tuition benefits for service members and their dependents at public colleges and universities in their state of assignment;
    Better education of the state and federal judiciary about the new SCRA;
  • Restoration of full benefits under the Survivor Benefit Program, which at present decreases from 55 percent of the service member's pay to 35 percent once the survivor reaches age 62;
  • Improved protections and broader interpretations of SCRA among states, to allow service members and their spouses to terminate leases if they are on active duty and receive orders to a new location;
  • Improved access to affordable legal representation for service members through an Expanded Legal Assistance Program;
  • More vigorous advocacy for returning veterans, particularly Reservists reentering the civilian work force.
  • Underlying many of the Working Group's findings is the urgent need for greater consistency in the laws and regulations that impact service members and their families-representing perhaps their most pressing legal concern.

"What this report makes readily apparent is a critical lack of consistency among the states in laws affecting the lives of our service members and their families. They need a level of predictability-be it in civilian employment upon return from military deployment, qualifying for in-state tuition rates by a service member or her college-age dependents, or being able to break his lease because of military relocation, no matter whether a spouse is also included on the lease-so that they can focus on their work as the defenders of our country," said Archer.

"A major component of improving the consistency of our laws is better education of our state and federal judges about the many laws and provisions that affect service members, particularly the SCRA, because an informed judiciary is the greatest protection against exploitation and disadvantage the men and women who serve in the military can possibly have," continued Archer.

For a complete copy of the report and other information, visit www.abavideonews.org/ABA292/index.htm or contact Glenn Fischer, ABA LAMP Committee, at [email protected]

The ABA LAMP Committee provides assistance to military lawyers (judge advocates) and civilian lawyers charged with providing civil legal services to an estimated nine million military personnel and their dependents. The committee also serves as a clearinghouse for the Armed Forces on issues and developments in the law relating to the delivery of legal assistance. LAMP also acts as a liaison between the ABA and the Department of Defense, and its military services.

With more than 400,000 members, the American Bar Association is the largest voluntary professional membership organization in the world. As the national voice of the legal profession, the ABA works to improve the administration of justice, promotes programs that assist lawyers and judges in their work, accredits law schools, provides continuing legal education, and works to build public understanding around the world of the importance of the rule of law in a democratic society.